Publishing in International Journal of Obesity, researchers carried out a longitudinal study to examine the association between screen based media use in the bedroom and body fatness among children in the UK.
Prof Nick Finer, Consultant Endocrinologist and Bariatric Physician, UCL, and Society for Endocrinology member, said:
“The authors have found strong evidence that having a television in a child’s bedroom is a risk for their becoming overweight. Girls with a TV in their bedroom at age 7 were about 30% more likely to be overweight at age 11 compared to those who did not have a TV in their bedroom, and for boys the risk was increased by about 20%. Interestingly the risk was not driven by how late the child went to bed, nor, in boys but not girls, by how many hours they reported watching TV or DVDs. Computer use was not associated with excess weight gain. This is a powerful study based on a large cohort (UK Millennium Cohort) that had the strength of being able to track children’s’ weight between age 7 and 11 (compared to previous studies that have just been cross-sectional, i.e. looking at weight one age). The study suggests, but does not prove that a bedroom TV causes the weight gain, but is highly suggestive even if the mechanism by which it could do so is unclear. The authors rightly do not say that parents should not put a TV in their child’s bedroom, as this will take studies where this is prospectively tested as a prevention strategy. However it is hard not to think that parents concerned about their child’s risk of becoming overweight might appropriately consider not putting a TV in their young children’s bedrooms.”
Prof Russell Viner, Officer for Health Promotion, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said:
“With a third of 11 year old children in England overweight and almost one in five obese, urgently tackling the childhood obesity epidemic is absolutely vital.
“We know that high levels of screen time expose children to increased risks of being overweight on a number of fronts, creating a damaging combination of a more sedentary lifestyle, increased exposure to junk food advertising, disruption to sleep and poorer ability to regulate eating habits when watching TV.
“As the study indicates, more research is needed to fully understand this complex area, but this is a high quality study covering a very large and nationally representative sample and provides a reasonably strong basis to think that the links shown here are real; it highlights that having a TV in the bedroom from 7 years increases the risk of being overweight four years later, regardless of the child’s weight in earlier childhood. As such the findings must be taken very seriously.
“Furthermore, the study adds yet more weight to our recommendations for the next government to tackle this issue which include a strict ban on junk food advertising before the 9 O’clock watershed.”
* ‘Longitudinal associations between television in the bedroom and body fatness in a UK cohort study’ by Heilmann et al. was published in International Journal of Obesity on Friday 2 June.
Prof Nick Finer: “This study is from my Institution but I have no direct connection with the researchers. I am employed by Novo Nordisk a manufacturer of diabetes and weight loss medications.”
Prof Russell Viner: This study is from my institution but I had no direct connection with the researchers on this project. No further conflicts.