many adults, children find that television is a wonderful way to relax.
It is entertaining and educational.
Television gives children the chance to escape into a fantasy world or
learn about places, people and things that they might otherwise be unfamiliar
with. Yet, despite these
wonderful opportunities, television may have a negative impact on a child’s
health. If you
picture the popular image of a ”couch potato,” one often visualizes a
person slumped in a chair, eating snack foods and drinking sweetened
beverages. Thus, watching television can easily be viewed as an
unhealthy pastime. Studies
have cited that the average child or adolescent watches an average of 3 hours
of television per day. When
including other television-type media, such as video games and videotapes,
this average increases to about 6.5 hours per day (Committee on Public
Education, 2001). It would, therefore, appear that a child who keeps a
poor diet and remains in sedentary positions for extended periods of time will
be more likely to become obese.
cited by Jan Van den Bulck (2000), there are five major potential health
effects that may be related to watching television.
Unhealthy behaviors such as snacking and drinking high calorie soft
drinks are often an essential part of the viewing experience for many. Also, television can directly change a family’s eating
habits by planning meal times around their favorite show.
Families that are too engrossed in their shows to cook will often
settle for nutrient-lacking microwave dinners or take-out.
In addition, physical activity often disappears while the television
set is turned on. Thus,
television displaces other leisure activities that may be more beneficial. This inactivity leads to ineffective energy expenditure, the
burning of calories. Lastly,
television content can affect a person’s eating habits.
Even though television often portrays an idealized body image,
particularly in women, those who sit by the hour will most likely achieve the
research has been done studying genetic factors in obesity.
Yet research regarding individual development factors, such as
television viewing habits, has been lacking.
Studies over the past few years began to analyze what effects, if any,
television has on a child’s weight difficulties.
Overweight is often defined by the age and sex-specific 95th percentile
of the body mass index. BMI
values between the 85th and 95th percentiles are
considered an area of concern, where there is an increased level of becoming
overweight (Troiano and Flegal, 1998).
When Van den Bulck tested his five potential health effects on 1035 fifth and sixth graders, his results clearly indicated television’s damaging effects. The participants were asked to rank how often they watched TV, and how often they ate snacks, sweets, or candy while watching. Over 41% of the families he studied reported changing their mealtime due to a television show. About one-forth of the children in the sample hardly exercised. Girls in the sample gained more body mass than those who refrained from sugary sweets. In all, this study shows some merit for a television and obesity connection.
connection was furthered through a randomized controlled school-based trial
performed in September 1996- April 1997.
Two California schools, matched in socioeconomic status and scholastic
achievement, were chosen to participate.
192 third and forth graders were involved.
One school, the experimental group, was assigned 18 lessons over the 6
months. Such classroom curriculum
changes were intended to reduce television, videotape, and video game usage.
Basic height, weight, and BMI measurements were taken at the start of the
program. Parents reported the
physical activity, diet, and behavior of their children before and after.
Results showed that compared with the control students, those with the
lessons had statistically significant decreases in body mass index.
These children decreased their television viewing time by about
one-third, as well as the number of meals eaten in front of the TV.
It is clear that this study had a strong methodology.
Similar samples allowed for more reliable and valid results. These children were able to learn from the program, finding
more active and healthy ways to spend their free time (Robinson, 1999).
study, performed by Roberts (2000), discusses the incidence of decreased
habitual physical activity, increased television viewing, increased energy
intake and decreased energy expenditure.
In order to maintain ideal body weight,
energy that a child consumes must equal his or her energy output.
Since television often lowers expenditure, Roberts cites a study done
by Mo-suwan, Pongprapai, Junjana & Puetpaiboon in which 292 kindergarten
girls were enrolled in a school exercise program.
Physical activity for 35 minutes, 3 times a week
for 30 weeks, was able to lower the likelihood of high body mass.
for hours at a time is not the only unhealthy part of watching television.
The advertisements which are aired on the tube can have negative
effects on a child’s well-being. As
stated in an article written by Birch and Fisher (1998), “The most familiar
and preferred foods in childhood tend to combine these two principle
ingredients: sugar and fat.” Food
preferences are therefore an important determinant of a child’s food intake. The child’s peers and adult mentors may influence these
eating habits. The television
definitely influences all of their lives. Although few studies have looked at television as it
affects a child’s food preference, intake and adiposity, some observations
can be made. In a content
analysis performed by Cotugna in 1987, 80% of the television commercials in a
12-hour period showed foods low in nutritional value and high in sugars.
Often, a child’s request for food matched the items advertised.
for unhealthy diets are not just a problem in the U.S.
A Canadian study found a high prevalence of low-nutrient beverages,
snacks and candy. A recent study
preformed in New Zealand helps show this international concern. Wilson,
Quigley, and Mansoor (1999) examined the nutritional value of television food
advertisements that are targeted at children.
After videotaping 42 hours of children’s programming on a weekend
morning, they found that 63% of the 269 food commercials were for foods high
in fat and/or sugar. 14% of the
ads were for fast food, while snack foods made up an overwhelming 76% of the
commercial advertisements. Although
this study used a sample of only one television station, the strong findings
indicate that similar results would be found if more stations would be used.
various studies have shown a relationship between television viewing and
overeating, cross-sectional studies cannot always determine the direction of
causality. We may find that
increased television viewing leads to increased overeating. However, who is to say that overweight children don’t watch
more television than their normal-weight friends? More research must be performed.
The larger the sample sizes, the more information we are likely to
gain. In addition, longitudinal
studies may operate best. By
following each child through adolescence, we will be able to truly observe his
or her viewing habits, as well as his or her diet and activity while watching
favorite shows. Until such
research is finished, parents should follow some recommended guidelines made
by pediatricians (Committee on Public Education, 2001).
Limit television time (and other
entertainment media) to no more than 2 hours of quality programming per day
Remove televisions from a child’s bedroom
Encourage alternative entertainment such as
reading, athletics, hobbies and creative play
guidelines will limit a child’s snacking while watching television, as well
as promote activities which will decrease the likelihood of obesity at that
time or in the future. A proper
TV diet rich in fruits and vegetables would also contribute to a lower risk of
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