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TV Watching Produces‘Teletubby’ Children

TV Watching Produces‘Teletubby’ Children

A new report has found considerable evidence that watching television contributes to childhood obesity – and the cause is likely to be because of an effect on dietary intake, particularly of high-calorie, low-nutrient food.

The report – Does watching television contribute to increased body weight and obesity in children? – was commissioned by Agencies for Nutrition Action , and released today at the Public Health Association conference. It found that every hour children spend watching television increases their risk of becoming obese, and children watching the most TV had double the risk of developing obesity compared with children in the lowest watching category.

Co-author Robert Scragg said this increase in obesity appeared to be linked to dietary intake, rather than with decreased physical activity.

“The report found conclusively that watching television contributes to body weight and obesity in children – and the more television children watch, the greater their risk of obesity.

“However, surprisingly we found that overall, the effect of television viewing replacing physical activity was small. Instead, the increased risk of obesity was more consistently associated with television-exposed children eating more snack or treat foods, and fewer fruit and vegetables.”

Co-author Robert Quigley said “While not the direct focus of this review, the intake of more snack and treat foods and fewer fruit and vegetables is probably related to children’s exposure to high levels of television advertising of high fat, high sugar or energy-dense foods and beverages.

“Unless we find ways to ensure children watch less TV, or make TV safer by getting rid of the food advertising, we'll end up with a nation of ‘teletubbies’. It's bad enough that nearly one in three children are already overweight or obese.”

The report found that on average, New Zealand children were watching more than two hours of television each day, that almost half of year 5 to 10 students have their own TV, and that approximately 3 out of every 4 food adverts promote foods counter to improved nutrition.

Rob Quigley said New Zealand had few restrictions on the advertising of unhealthy food to children, and this needed to change.

“This report is our clearest indication yet of the effect of television on the health of our children. We recommend the government legislate against the marketing of less nutritious foods and beverages on television.”

Other recommendations include:

• children and their families should reduce their television viewing to one hour per day or less
• everyone concerned about children’s wellbeing should advocate for marketing controls on high fat and high sugar foods.
• the Ministry of Education should develop school resources to help teachers present curricula about appropriate use of television
• community organizations, parents and schools should form partnerships to provide after-school or evening activities for students to provide alternatives to television viewing.
• health professionals should spend time educating parents and young people about the impact of television on their diet and weight and suggest strategies to limit the amount of television viewed.

Co-author Rachael Taylor said there were a number of things parents can do to reduce the time their children spent watching TV.

“These include removing television sets from children’s bedrooms, reducing the number of televisions in the house, moving the television set to less prominent locations in the house, and placing clear limits on how much television can be viewed.”

The full report is available on the Agency for Nutrition Action website: www.ana.org.nz

Ends

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