Watching TV May Mean More Snacking For Kids

Television and video games associated with unhealthy snacking among middle school children

(RxWiki News) Spending a lot of time in front of a TV or computer screen can promote inactivity, especially in children. And inactivity may mean other unhealthy habits.

A recent study found that spending a lot of time watching television or playing computer or video games was associated with poor health behaviors such as unhealthy snacking among middle school children.

The researchers discovered that watching television for two to six hours per day was specifically associated with especially unhealthy snacking and a greater risk for heart disease compared to watching very little television each day or playing video or computer games for any length of time.

"Talk to your child about spending less time in front of a television or computer screen."

The lead author of this study was Elizabeth Jackson, MD, MPH, from the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Michigan Systems in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The study included 1,003 sixth graders from 24 middle schools in Southwest Michigan.

The researchers categorized the children according to how much time they spent in front of a TV or computer screen per day:

  • "High Television" — those who spent 2 to 6 hours watching television per day
  • "High Computer/Video Games" — those who spent 2 to 6 hours playing computer or video games per day
  • "Low Screen Time" — those who spent less than half an hour per day in front of any type of screen

A total of 430 kids were in the high television group, 281 were in the higher computer/video game group and 208 were in the low screen time group.

The children self-reported their snacking habits, and the researchers measured each participant's blood fat level, resting and recovery heart rate, blood pressure and body mass index (height to weight ratio).

The findings showed that the kids in both the high television and high computer/video game groups snacked more often and were more likely to choose less healthy snacks compared to the kids in the low screen time group.

The high television and the high computer/video game groups ate an average of four snacks per day — one full snack more than the kids in the low screen time group.

The researchers found that the children in the high television group ate more unhealthy, high-fat snacks such as French fries and chips per day compared to the high computer/video game group.

In addition, those in the high television group had elevated blood pressure and body mass index (BMI) compared to the children in each of the other two groups.

Dr. Jackson and team suggested that the differences between the high television group and the high computer/video game group were due to television commercials promoting unhealthy food, and children who watch television rather than play computer/video games have free hands while watching television, allowing more of an opportunity for mindless snacking.

“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,” Dr. Jackson said in a press statement. “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.”

Promoting healthier weight and diet habits in childhood could significantly help reduce adult-related weight and diet problems that often contribute to heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure later in life, Dr. Jackson said.

"The results of this study are not surprising. It's not uncommon to see poor dietary habits associated with inactivity," said Rusty Gregory, a personal trainer and wellness coach in Austin, Texas and a dailyRx Contributing Expert.

"As television and computer or video game time increases, there is less time to be active. A lack of energy often accompanies little or no physical activity and can lead to poor dietary choices. It's a cycle that can be very difficult to break," Gregory told dailyRx News.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting entertainment screen time to less than one or two hours per day.

Dr. Jackson and team noted a couple limitations of their study. First, the researchers did not have data on whether kids actually snacked while watching television. Second, the study did not include data on the use of newer video game systems such as Wii that promote some physical activity.

This study was presented on March 30 at the American College of Cardiology's 63rd Annual Scientific meeting.

Project Healthy Schools provided funding.

Review Date: 
April 1, 2014