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New Study Explores Link Between TV and Childhood Obesity

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Does your child prefer Saturday morning cartoons to his Xbox or Wii? A new study published in Pediatrics suggests that of all the common screen media, TV might be the worst for his waistline.

Researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital used a new research model to measure the moment-by-moment use of electronic media by kids ages 13 to 15 and calculate their Body Mass Index (BMI). The 91 teens studied used a handheld computer to report what they were doing at random times of the week, prompting them to report their use of TV, video games and computers, and to record whether they were focusing most on activities like media, homework or friends.

Out of all the different screen media, kids noted watching TV the most – at an average of more than three hours a day.

Plus: Overweight Teens Bullied by Parents

The study suggested a strong correlation between focusing on TV and higher BMI.  Lead author David Bickham, PhD, says that the association may be explained by eating while watching TV and exposure to commercials featuring high calorie food.

Researchers did not find a link between BMI and computers or video games.

“There’s a lot of research that shows that kids eat more and make less healthy choices when they’re eating and watching television,” Bickham tells Parenting.com. “And part of what’s happening is that you’re distracting yourself from cues that your body is giving you about when you’re full. It’s possible that paying attention to TV plays a role by further distracting you from anything that you’re eating.

This means parents need to take a proactive roll in managing the amount of television they watch, experts say.

“Being pragmatic, we realize that it’s hard to get your kids to reduce their screen time,” senior author Michael Rich, MD, MPH and Director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital.

“But if you can reduce their exposure to commercial messages using DVRs or by watching pre-recorded videos, and if you can have them not eating while they’re watching a screen, you will make the most improvement.”

Plus: The Rise of Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity affects one-third of American kids, who are at risk for high blood pressure, diabetes and joint pain. More than 7 percent of boys and 5.5 percent of girls can be classified as extremely obese, according to a recent Kaiser Permanente report.

Treatment plans involve changing kids’ diets and improving their activity levels. Medications or even weight-loss surgery might be advised in more severe cases.

Do you worry that your kids spend too much time in front of the TV? Leave a comment.

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