Researchers at the University of Montreal and Saint Justine Mother and Child University Hospital conducted a world-first study and found that every hour a two to four year old child watches television contributes to his or her waist circumference by the end of 4th grade and his or her skill in sports.

Lead author Dr. Caroline Fitzpatrick and senior author Dr. Linda Pagani published their study in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.

Pagani explained:

“We already knew that there is an association between preschool television exposure and the body fat of 4th grade children, but this is the first study to describe more precisely what the association represents. Parents were asked about their child’s TV habits. Trained examiners took waist measurements and administered the standing long jump test to measure child muscular fitness. We found, for example, that each weekly hour of TV at 29 months of age corresponds to a decrease of about a third of a centimeter in the distance a child is able to jump.”

The standing long jump test not only gave investigators an important indicator of health in the form of the participants’ muscular fitness, but also revealed athletic ability. For example, “explosive leg strength” which is required in sports like football, basketball, and skating was measured in the test.

According to Fitzpatrick, children wanting to play sports depends, in part, on their observed athletic skill. She went on to explain how behavioral dispositions can become established during childhood, when a person develops habits and favored activities. If kids have the ability to perform well when they are young, they are most likely going to want to participate in sporting events in adulthood.

The study consisted of 1314 children and their parents from the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development database. Parents reported how many hours of TV were watched during the week and weekend for their kids when they were 2.5 to 4.5 years old.

Average TV viewing was 8.8 hours per week at the beginning of the study. That number increased, on average, by 6 hours to reach 14.8 hours per week by the age of 4.5. Reports showed that 15 percent of the kids were already watching more than 18 hours per week of TV.

For every extra weekly hour of TV the kids watched, on top of what they had been watching at 2.5, their waist size went up a little less than half a millimeter by the age of 4.5. For example, a child who watches 18 hours of TV at 4.5 will have an extra 6.7 millimeters of waist by age 10.

The research team hopes that this study will encourage officials to develop policies that will help kids struggling with obesity by targeting environmental factors. More research should be examined in order to recognize that the health issues they saw in this study were directly from watching television.

Pagani said:

“Across the occidental world, there have been dramatic increases in unhealthy weight for both children and adults in recent decades. Our standard of living has also changed in favor of more easily prepared, calorie-dense foods and sedentary practices. Watching more television not only displaces other forms of educational and active leisurely pursuits but also places them at risk of learning inaccurate information and proper eating. These findings support clinical suspicions that more screen time in general contributes to the rise in excess weight in our population, thus providing essential clues for effective approaches to its eradication.”

According to the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics, children 2 years of age and older should not watch more than 2 hours of television each day.

Written by Sarah Glynn