Television can be a form of entertainment used as an educational tool, but children bathing in the screen's light for too long could be gaining excessive weight as a result. An alarming link between childhood obesity and television was presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in San Diego, leading researchers to recommend a parental restriction on the remote control.

"Children who watch one to two hours of TV a day, as opposed to those who watch less, are more likely to be overweight and obese at kindergarten and first grade," the study's lead author, Dr. Mark DeBoer, associate professor of pediatrics a t the University of Virginia, said in a press release. "An hour is not that much time. In that sense, I was surprised."

Researchers analyzed data from 11,113 kindergarteners collected from parents between the 2011 to 2012 school year. The study was conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics to sort out what lifestyle factors affected a child’s educational performance, which included the number of hours a child watched television, used the computer, along with their height and weight. A year later, researchers followed up with 10,853 parents and found children who watched just one hour of television a day were 50 to 60 percent more likely to be overweight and 58 to 73 percent more likely to be obese, compared to kids who watched less than an hour.

 If kids watched more than one hour of television daily, they were 39 percent more likely to become overweight and 86 percent more likely to become obese by the time they hit first grade. In the last 30 years, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescence, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obese kids and teens are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, joint problems, sleep apnea, and social stigmatization and poor self-esteem.

The health dangers don’t scare off parents of two-thirds of infants and toddlers watching an average of two hours of television a day, according to Kids Health. This doesn’t meet anywhere near the American Academy of Pediatrics's recommendation to keep any child under 2 years old from watching television and kids older than 2 from watching no more than one to two hours of “quality programming.” Instead, the average child between the ages of 2 to 5 years old is spending 32 hours a week in front of the television.

Constant daily television watching typically requires a sedentary lifestyle, and a lack of physical activity is the leading cause of obesity coupled with a couch-friendly bowl of unhealthy salty, sugary, and fatty foods. DeBoer says, "Given overwhelming evidence connecting the amount of time TV viewing and unhealthy weight, pediatricians and parents should attempt to restrict childhood TV viewing." 

Source: DeBoer M, Peck T, and Scharf R. Viewing as Little as 1 Hour of Television Daily Is Associated with Higher Weight Status in Kindergarten: The Early Longitudinal Study.  Pediatric Academic Societies Annual Meeting. 2015.