Kids, television, and obesity…

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I was recently trolling the obesity literature – weird hobby, I know – to try to find some new and interesting information to bring to you, my loyal followers.  I found some great facts and figures to help all you parents out there keep your kids from sliding down the slippery slope to pudgeville.  I have long been a foe of the boob tube.  We don’t have a TV in our house because I don’t like what it does to kids.  So I was not surprised to find a wealth of data linking television viewing to obesity in children.  I thought it would helpful for all the parents out there for me to share a few examples.  I found an article in the International Journal of Obesity that studied a group of Dutch children.  The authors of the study collected information on more than 4000 little tykes.  They found that children between the ages of 4 and 8 that watched more than 1.5 hours of television a day were 65% more likely to be overweight than children that watched < 1 hour per day.  This difference remained even after adjustment for potential confounding factors like the types of foods the kids usually eat and even whether or not their parents were overweight.


I found a study of American high school students and the relationship between their weight, activity levels, and television viewing.  It showed a graded response existed between TV and weight. The kids studied were 20% to 25% less likely to be overweight if they watched 2 to 3 hours of TV per day and ∼40% less likely to be classified as overweight if they reported 1 hour of TV per day compared with those who watched ≥4 hours of TV.  In other words, the less the merrier.  That same study showed that the more active kids were the less likely they were to be overweight (duh!).

I found yet another article that showed that rates of obesity are lowest among children watching less than 1 hour of television a day, and highest among those watching more than 4 hours a day.  Television watching was positively associated with obesity, even after controlling for age, race/ethnicity, family income, weekly physical activity, and energy intake.

Sedentary Lifestyle: Couch potato
Photo credit: FBellon

I then stopped looking because I was convinced.  Part of the reason this is all so convincing is that it just makes so much sense.  When a kid is sitting on his or her butt all day in front of the tube they are burning fewer calories than if they’re outside playing.  To add to that their pliable little brains are being washed with all kinds of subliminal messages courtesy of our favorite food manufactures and fast food chains.  The end result is increased intake of calorie dense junk food.

This information is very important because about 25% of U.S. youth report watching television ≥4 h/d.  More than anywhere else, the home environment shapes our children’s habits and attitudes.  This is especially true with respect to their relationship to their weight.  Controlling television viewing presents a huge opportunity to make a major impact on the obesity epidemic.  If parents are able to limit or completely eliminate the amount of time our kids spend in front of the television we can literally save these kids lives.


Bottom line:  If you want your children to be healthier, turn off the tube, get them off the couch, and kick their lazy butts outside to play.  They might even have fun doing it!


  • Int J Obesity 2013;37:47-53
  • Obesity Res 2002;10(5):379-385
  • Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2001;155(3):360-365

6 thoughts on “Kids, television, and obesity…

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  1. Central to the most important parenting tip out there: It starts with the parents. Get rid of your TV altogether and everyone benefits!

  2. Dr. Grove, have you come across any studies linking obesity in children with h/d computer usage? Or, to expand, h/d electronic device usage?

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