New Study: TV Is Making Our Kids Fat

Cathy Arnst

Before I adopted my daughter, I had a fantasy that I would get rid of my television. Instead, I got digital cable, HBO, and TIVO. Sigh. I do limit how much and what she watches, but I am nowhere near those few (very few) parents I know who don't turn the TV on during the week, or otherwise strictly limit viewing. As a working parent,I probably lean too much on the TV to keep my child--and me--entertained. I'm just not up for a game of Monopoly after a long day.

The latest issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine has reminded me just how dangerous TV can be however. The issue, published by the American Medical Association, is devoted to "Children and the Media," and it's downright scary. The most worrisome study found that each additional hour of TV watched by children was associated with 167 more calories consumed.

Researchers at the University of Michigan Health System found that 3-year-old children exposed to two or more hours of TV a day were nearly three times more likely to be overweight than children who either watched or were in a room with a TV on for fewer than two hours a day, regardless of the child’s environment at home.

This was true even if they were just in a room with a TV on, but weren't watching.

Here's a summary:

Television Viewing Linked to Higher Calorie Consumption Among Children

In a study of children at five public schools near Boston, children who watched more television consumed more calories. Jean L. Wiecha, Ph.D., Harvard School of Public Health, and colleagues studied 548 children (48.4 percent females) with an average age of 11.7 years. Among participants, each additional hour of television watched per day was associated with an extra 167 calories consumed, including a larger percentage of sugar-sweetened beverages, fast foods and other products commonly advertised on TV. "Although children and youth are encouraged to watch what they eat, many youth seem to eat what they watch, and in the process increase their risk for increasing their energy intake," the authors write. "In the absence of regulations restricting food advertising aimed at children, reduction in television viewing is a promising approach to reducing excess energy intake."
(Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2006;160:436-442.)

Other articles in the journal are equally worrisome:
*Violent video games may contribute to negative health attitudes and behaviors
*Children who watch violent TV spend less time with friends (interestingly, non-violent TV does not affect socialization)
*Children who watch more TV may have sex earlier
*The more TV they watch, the more children ask for products being advertised

There have been other studies linking TV to excess weight, and not just because it's a sedentary activity. When we eat in front of a TV or computer our brains are distracted and ignore signals from the stomach of fullness. I don't think this is a bigger problem for working than non-working parents--I've been in far too many homes where the TV is on all the time, or the kids have TVs in their bedrooms, no matter what the employment of economic status of the parents. Clearly, this is one behavior that we all should try and change.

If anyone has any tips on how to turn the TV off, please share. I absolutely ban TV on weekday mornings, and during meals. I also try to keep it off when my daughter has a playdate over, unless its gone quite long and they are cooped up inside due to weather. I also play music all the time--my version of background noise. At least that gets you dancing!

In that spirit, I'd like to recommend a recipe from one my favorite soul divas, Patti LaBelle. She was diagnosed with diabetes several years ago and as a result published a cookbook, Patti LaBelle's Lite Cuisine, filled with easy, healthy and delicious recipes. It's become one of my favorite cookbooks, and the first time I made the following dish my daughter and a friend both pronounced it "really delicious!" While making it (with your kids helping, of course) put on the this CD. You'll get good food and exercise all in one.

Time: 35 minutes

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small or medium red onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 pounds chicken tenders, cut into bite-size pieces
1 14 1/2-ounce can reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup uncooked yellow rice (see note)
1 15-ounce can black-eyed peas, drained
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme.

1. In a large skillet, warm olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add garlic and chicken tenders, and cook, stirring from time to time, until chicken begins to brown; about 7 minutes.
2. Stir in broth, poultry seasoning, black pepper, red pepper flakes and salt. Raise heat to high, and bring mixture to a boil. Mix in rice, and reduce heat to low. Cover and cook until rice is almost tender, about 10 minutes.
3. Stir in black-eyed peas and thyme, mixing well. Cover and cook until heated through, about 10 minutes.
Yield: 4 servings.

Note: If you buy yellow rice with saffron that comes with a separate seasoning packet, mix the rice and seasoning in a bowl, then measure out 3/4 cup.

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