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Study Reports TV Contributes More to Obesity than Computers and Video Games

Update Date: Apr 09, 2013 11:01 AM EDT

Childhood obesity can be attributed to several factors from poor diet to lack of physical activities. The improvement of technology, making computers, televisions, and video games, more enjoyable than a day at the park have led to more young children sitting than moving. Researchers have known that the increase availability of the Internet through different means, such as smart phones and tablets, have led to more sedentary lifestyles for the youth. However, researchers found that out of all the different types of screens, television, computers, and video games, traditional television is still the biggest contributor to obesity.

The researchers from the Boston Children' Hospital looked at the effects of the different types of content available on television in indirectly promoting obesity in young children. The researchers evaluated the types of media that children from the ages of 13 to 15 used and how often they used it. The sample set of 91 children was also required to report their height and weight, which the researchers used to help calculate individual body mass indexes (BMI). The researchers reported that children spend over three hours per day in front of the television, which was the most time spend on any media screens within the household. The researchers also found that the children who actually paid attention to the television shows as opposed to being distracted by nearby situations or other media screens had higher BMIs. Children who paid attention to their tasks on the computer or during video games did not have higher BMIs.

The findings revealed that 14-year-old males who reported to paying the most attention to the television show weighed 14.2 pounds more than boys who did not pay as much attention. For females, the difference between the two factors was 13.5 pounds. The researchers concluded that children who pay attention to the shows are also paying more attention to the commercials, which often include high calorie snacks and foods. These children might be at a higher risk for consuming these types of foods. Furthermore, children who watch television tend to have free hands, which allow them to snack uncontrollably. Video games or computers occupy the children's hands from reaching for a snack.

"If you're paying attention to TV, you're not playing attention to hunger cues," Michael Rich, the senior author of the study, explained. Rich is the director of the Center on Media and Child Health at the Children's Hospital and an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. "Big picture, it's not how much time any screen is on. It's what screen is on, what content is on that screen and what else is my child doing while absorbing that content."

The researchers believe that simply stopping children from watching television is not the solution in preventing childhood obesity. Screens in general have become a part of children's lives and taking that away would not solve anything. Parents should become more aware of these contributing factors of childhood obesity and try to monitor the content that their children are viewing.

The study was published in Pediatrics.

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