DUNEDIN, New Zealand — Lots of TV today could lead to significant health issues tomorrow. Researchers from the University of Otago have found a link between watching television as a child and a host of metabolic health concerns years later. They discovered that children who watched more television were more likely to develop metabolic syndrome during adulthood.
While this is hardly the first study to suggest watching too much TV as a child may not be the best idea, these findings add further weight to the mounting pile of evidence indicating that excessive screen time as a child can promote poor health as an adult.
Metabolic syndrome is a blanket medical term that refers to a cluster of conditions tied to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke including hypertension, high blood sugar, excess body fat, and abnormal cholesterol levels.
Led by Professor Bob Hancox, of the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, the research team used data from 879 people participating in the Dunedin study. The analysis revealed that those who watched more television between ages five and 15 were more likely to have metabolic conditions at age 45. Participants were asked about their TV viewing habits at ages five, seven, nine, 11, 13, and 15 years-old. On weekdays, the average viewing time among kids was just over two hours.
“Those who watched the most had a higher risk of metabolic syndrome in adulthood,” Professor Hancox says in a university release. “More childhood television viewing time was also associated with a higher risk of overweight and obesity and lower physical fitness.”
Boys tended to watch slightly more TV than girls, and metabolic syndrome was more common in men than women (34% and 20%, respectively). However, the link between childhood television viewing time and adult metabolic syndrome was observed across both sexes and may even be stronger in females.
Interestingly, very little evidence suggested watching less television as an adult helps reduce the association between childhood television viewing and adult health.
“While, like any observational study, researchers cannot prove that the association between television viewing at a young age directly causes adult metabolic syndrome, there are several plausible mechanisms by which longer television viewing times could lead to poorer long-term health,” Prof. Hancox adds.
“Television viewing has low energy expenditure and could displace physical activity and reduce sleep quality,” he explains. “Screen time may also promote higher energy intake, with children consuming more sugar-sweetened beverages and high-fat dietary products with fewer fruit and vegetables. These habits may persist into adulthood.”
In conclusion, study authors say these findings are especially relevant today due to the increased screen time among the general public in recent years.
“Children today have far more access to screen-based entertainment and spend much more time being sedentary. It is likely that this will have even more detrimental effects for adult health,” Prof. Hancox concludes. “These findings lend support to the World Health Organization recommendation that children and young teenagers should limit their recreational screen time.”
The study is published in PEDIATRICS.
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