Why It’s Hard to Cut Down on Watching Television

A Canadian program that set out to cut the time spent by children watching TV or using another form of display screen failed to make any difference. That was the bad news, but the good news was that it did have the unintended consequence of cutting the amount of food consumed by the young study participants while they were in front of their screens. It is common knowledge that we all eat more and less healthy foods when watching TV. Snacks and baked goods predominate in this type of ‘grazing’.

It is also common knowledge that there is a link between the time spent watching video entertainment and obesity. And not just obesity. For example, too much screen time is complicit in youngsters having language development difficulties, behavior problems, and strangely an increased risk of becoming a smoker.


According to the new study researchers at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. “These are really important health outcomes in young children. So we need to understand what works and what doesn’t.” No intervention designed to cut down TV watching time has been successful in permanently changing the leisure habits of our children. Although two such studies did hint at possible improvements with the pre-school age group. Therefore, this is the target population in this latest study, using education of parents in a practical way. For the full results of this study, see the journal ‘Pediatrics’.

The researchers questioned two groups of three year-olds who were registered with a community of clinics in the Toronto city boundaries and who came for annual health checks. The children and their parents were put at random into one of two groups. With the target group of 64 children, the parents were spoken to concerning the health implications of screen time and given advice on how to cut down their kid’s hours. Such things as taking the TV out of the bedroom, and crucially, not allowing meals in front of screens. This group along with a control group of 68 were also trained in parental guidance techniques for the Internet and how to automatically cut out on-screen violence.

Twelve months later the kids were questioned again on their TV time and habits. The time spent watching TV did not change significantly for any of the children. They were glued to the box on average, 1 hour plus on school days and up to an hour and a half on Saturdays and Sundays. There was also no significant change in their ‘body mass indices’ at the start and end of the study period.

Encouragingly, however, there was a statistically significant shift in the number of meals the intervention group had in front of the TV. Down to 1.6 per day from 2, where it stayed for the control group. So 2 fewer meals a week has got to be a bonus. The other good thing to come out of this study is that it raises the issue and makes people think about ‘mindful eating’.

Claire Al-Aufi

Claire Al-Aufi is a contributing author for Hive Health Media who provides updates on health and fitness news.

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