For the Littlest Couch Potatoes, More TV Could Mean Weaker Legs and Bigger Waists

An increase in television watching in childhood has measurable health effects.

An increase in television watching in childhood could correlate to kids having larger waists and less leg strength. (Photo: Pieter d'hondt/Getty Images)

Jul 16, 2012
Jeannine Stein, a California native, wrote about health for the Los Angeles Times. In her pursuit of a healthy lifestyle she has taken countless fitness classes, hiked in Nepal and got in a boxing ring.

As if we needed more evidence that TV is a bad babysitter, more television watching at a young age could be linked with having a bigger waist and weaker legs later in childhood.

Excessive TV watching has long been associated with higher obesity rates, but a study published online this week in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity took a closer look at the fallout from being a young couch potato.

The participants were 1,314 Canadian children whose parents reported how much television their kids watched when they were 2.5 and 4.5 years old. When the children were in the second grade they were tested for length strength by way of a standing long jump, and had their waist circumference measured.

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Each hour per week of television watched at the age of 2.5 corresponded to a 0.14-inch decrease in the long jump. An hour increase in the average amount of weekly TV viewing from the age of 2.5 to 4.5 was linked with an additional 0.11-inch decrease in the long jump.

At the age of 4.5, researchers determined that for every extra hour of TV the children watched weekly compared to when they were 2.5 years old, their waist grew by about 0.02 inches. 

While that doesn’t seem like much, watching 18 hours of TV per week at the age of 4.5 could translate into an extra 0.3 inches added to the waistline by the age of 10.

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Some studies have shown that for adults, higher waist circumferences may be associated with a greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. Others have shown that overweight kids are more likely to turn into overweight adults. The authors of this study said more reseach is needed to determine if a cause and effect exist between television watching and fitness and weight later on. 

“Watching more television not only displaces other forms of educational and active leisurely pursuits but also places (children) at risk of learning inaccurate information about proper eating,” senior author Dr. Linda Pagani said in a news release. “These findings support clinical suspicions that more screen time in general contributes to the rise in excess weight in our population, thus providing essential clues for effective approaches to its eradication.”

What's your antidote to too much TV watching? Tell us in the comments.

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