Researchers have proven that limiting the time children and teens spend in front of the TV screen can bring long-term health benefits.
Spending a lot of time in front of the TV can be especially bad for young children. According to the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO), a child under the age of 2 should not have any contact with the screen of a TV, phone, tablet or computer. Although we associate long sitting in front of the TV mainly with an adverse effect on the development of a toddler, recent studies have shown that scientists can also directly translate into their health in adulthood.
Frequent television viewing in childhood and health in adulthood
In a study conducted by scientists from the University of Otago, which was published in the journal “Pediatrics”, scientists proved that prolonged television viewing by children aged 5-15 had a negative impact on their health in adulthood. Such a person, at the age of 45, was more likely to develop metabolic syndrome. This increased amount of time spent watching television in childhood also resulted in a greater risk of being overweight, obese and less physically active in such people.
Researchers collected data from 879 New Zealand participants. They analyzed how much time per day such people spent watching television in childhood – at the ages of 5, 7, 9, 11, 13 and 15 years old. The average time that the youngest spent on this at that time was 2 hours. “Those who watched the most were clearly more likely to develop metabolic syndrome in adulthood,” concluded lead author Prof. Bob Hancox. Boys watched more television as children compared to girls, and the result was a higher incidence of metabolic syndrome in men than women in adulthood. For men it was 34 percent, while for women it was only 20 percent. However, the association between childhood television viewing and the onset of metabolic syndrome was evident in both sexes (even stronger in women).
Why is frequent TV viewing bad for your health?
“Although, as with any observational study, we cannot prove that watching television at a young age directly causes metabolic syndrome, there are several plausible mechanisms through which this correlation may occur. For example, the fact that watching TV is associated with low energy expenditure, replaces physical activity and reduces the quality of sleep” – explained Prof. Hancox. In addition, time spent in front of the screen is conducive to the intake of more calories (sweet drinks, snacks), and in turn these habits may persist into adulthood.
While researchers have found that increased television viewing in children increases the risk of developing metabolic syndrome later in life, there is no evidence that reducing or stopping television viewing in adulthood reduces such risk.
What is metabolic syndrome?
Metabolic syndrome consists in the coexistence of risk factors for the development of cardiovascular diseases (atherosclerosis, hypertension or stroke) and type 2 diabetes. These include:
high blood pressure,
high blood sugar
excess body fat,
abnormal cholesterol level.
Lifestyle has the greatest influence on the occurrence of metabolic syndrome – as it turns out, the amount of time watching television in childhood is also important. Treatment of such metabolic syndrome is primarily aimed at reducing the risk of developing diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension and vascular damage. It starts with weight loss and reducing calorie intake, as well as increasing physical activity.