Health A to Z

Children's Health: More TV equals worse eating habits

Three-year-olds pack away extra sugar and fast food for every hour in front of the tube

Children as young as three may feel the effects of watching too much television: The more they watch, the more junk they eat.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School in Boston studied more than 1,200 three-year-old children and found that for each additional hour of TV viewing per day, the children consumed 0.06 additional servings per day of sugar-sweetened beverages, 0.32 additional servings per week of fast food and a total of 48.7 additional calories per day. They also ate 0.18 fewer fruit and vegetable servings per day, 0.44 fewer grams of fibre and 24.6 fewer milligrams of calcium per day.

“We knew the obesity epidemic hadn’t even spared the youngest children, so it’s become important to understand the development of obesity in this young population as well as the older population,” says Sonia Miller, a medical student who worked on the study. She notes that to date most studies of childhood obesity have focused on adolescents.

Miller explains that previous research had revealed that the association between obesity and TV viewing is not simply due to time spent watching TV replacing time spent being physically active, and it was therefore important to investigate dietary causes.

“It appears from our results that reducing screen time among young children seems to be important in (preventing obesity),” Miller says. “The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids this age, three-year-olds, spend no more than one to two hours participating in screen time per day, and we just hope our results may provide clinicians, as well as parents and policy-makers, with an understanding of why this recommendation regarding screen time is understandable.”