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TV Linked to Increased Heart Risk for Middle School Children

Update Date: Mar 28, 2014 02:11 PM EDT

Several studies have found numerous health risks involved with watching television for adults and children. Since watching TV requires no effort physically, people who watch too much TV increase their likelihood of becoming obese. In a new study, researchers examined the relationship between TV and the health of middle school children. They reported that TV promotes bad snacking habits, which increase children's heart risk.

For this study, the researchers examined 1,003 children in the sixth grade from 24 middle schools. The schools were a part of the Project Health Schools program that reached five communities in southeast Michigan. The researchers collected data on screen time, snacking behaviors, and food and beverage choices within the last 24 hours. The children's physical health was measured by taking their blood pressure, cholesterol levels, heart rate recovery time after exercise, height, and weight.

The researchers divided the participants into three groups. The first group, called low screen time, included children who watched less than one-half hour of TV per day. The second group was the high TV time group that included children who watched TV for two to six hours a day. The last group was the high computer/video games group made up of children who spent two to six hours a day on these games.

Regardless of the type of screen the children were in front of, the researchers found that kids who spent more hours on these activities tended to pick less healthy snacks. They also snacked more frequently with a rate of roughly 3.5 snacks per day. Children in the low screen time group ate around one snack per day. When the researchers compared screens, they found that children who watched a lot of TV were more likely to eat high fat foods than children who spent a lot of time playing computer or video games.

"Snacks are important, and choosing a piece of fruit rather than a bag of chips can make a really big difference for one's health," senior author of the study, Elizabeth Jackson, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor, Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, University of Michigan Systems, Ann Arbor, said. "Parents need to monitor their kids' activities. Our results offer even more reason to limit the amount of TV time kids have and are right in line with current recommendations."

She added, reported in the press release, "The wealth of studies now show a significant link between being overweight in childhood and continuing that trend into adulthood. The more we can change behavior early on to promote healthy weight and dietary habits, the more likely we will be able to reduce adult-related problems including heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure."

The researchers noted that the study did not ask whether or not the snacking occurred in front of a TV or computer. The study will be presented at the American College of Cardiology's 63rd Annual Scientific Session.

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