| Fact Sheet
Media Use And Obesity Among Children
Children spend more time sitting in front
of electronic screens than any other activity
besides sleeping. The average time spent with
various media (televisions, computers, video
games) is nearly four and one half-hours per
day among two to 17 year olds. (Annenberg
Public Policy Center, 1999)
Did you know?
In the last national survey, 25% of children
were overweight or at risk for obesity. These
figures more than doubled in one generation
(Troiano, 1998). Further the incidence of
Type II diabetes in children, the diabetes
linked with obesity, has increased significantly
in the past few decades.
- The incidence of obesity was highest
among children who watched four or more
hours of television a day and lowest among
children watching an hour or less a day.
These results were reported in a study by
researchers at the University at Buffalo,
Johns Hopkins University, The National Cancer
Institute, and the Centers for Disease Control
- A more recent study found that children
who watch more than three hours of television
a day are 50 per cent more likely to be
obese than kids who watch fewer than two
hours. These researchers conclude that "more
than 60% of overweight incidents can be
linked to excess TV viewing" (Tremblay,
- Obesity puts children at risk for a variety
of health problems. Type II diabetes, or
adult onset, is closely connected to weight.
One study found that rates of this disease
in children, quadrupled, rising from 4%
in 1982, to 16% by 1994 (Squires, 1998).
- According to the Centers for Disease
Control, 60% of overweight children between
the ages of 5 and 10 years of age already
have at least one risk factor for heart
disease, including elevated blood cholesterol,
blood pressure or increased insulin levels.
These are the factors that lead to hypertension,
diabetes, and atherosclerosis (Centers for
Disease Control, 2000).
- Lack of physical activity is a large
contributor to this problem. Physical education,
once an important part of every child's
school day, has been cut back at many schools.
Less than half of U.S. schoolchildren have
access to daily physical education classes
- Researchers in one study found that 20%
of US children participated in two or less
vigorous physical activities per week (Andersen,
- A strong relationship was found between
playing electronic video games and childhood
obesity in school-aged Swiss children by
researchers from The Children's Hospital
of Philadelphia and the University Hospital
Zurich (Stettler, 2004).
- In analyzing the data from a national
survey between 1988 and 1994, researchers
found that the 26% of children who watched
four or more hours of television a day had
significantly more body fat than those who
watched less television. The more time children
spent watching television, the greater their
weight increase (Andersen, 1998).
- Another study found that 60% of the overweight
in children, ages 10-15, may be due to excessive
television viewing (Gortmacher, 1996).
- Dietz in his study also found that the
incidence of obesity increased by 2% for
every additional hour of television watched
- In another study of preschoolers (ages
1-4), a child's risk of being overweight
increased by 6% for every hour of television
watched per day. If that child had a TV
in his or her bedroom, the odds of being
overweight jumped an additional 31% for
every hour watched. Preschool children with
TVs in their bedroom watched an additional
4.8 hours of TV or videos every week (Dennison,
et al., 2002).
- In related studies on significant health
issues, researchers are finding that increased
television viewing and subsequent lack of
exercise affect children adversely in two
- Early childhood is a time of tremendous
growth for children and the amount of
physical activity positively affects
the strength and amount of bone mass
developed. A study of pre-schoolers
found that girls who watched more television
measured lower in the amount of hipbone
density (Janz, 2001).
- Another study on the relationship
between metabolic rates and television
viewing found that metabolic rates during
television viewing were significantly
lower than during resting periods for
a group of obese and normal weight children,
ages 8 to 12 years old (Klesges, 1993).
- A study from Stanford University, researching
the relationship between television viewing
and weight, set out to measure body weight
differences between two sets of third and
fourth graders. One group was taught how
to lessen their time watching television
and playing video games. The second group
received no such instruction and their TV
and video game playing time went on as usual.
For the first group, the instruction sought
to establish a seven-hour a week limit on
television and video game time. This would
free up 14 hours to do something else. The
results showed that the children who watched
less television and played fewer video games
had a significant reduction in measures
of obesity, such as body mass index. The
children who watched their usual amount
of television had higher indicators of obesity.
The only difference between the two groups
was the amount of television and video game
playing (Robinson, 1999).
- Contributing to about 300,000 deaths
per year, obesity is only exceeded by smoking
as a cause of death. These two health issues
are connected for some children. A Harvard
University study found that children as
young as nine were trying to control their
weight by smoking cigarettes. Researchers
found that 17% of girls and 15% of boys,
between the ages of nine and fourteen, had
experimented with smoking or were considering
smoking because of their concern for weight
control (Tomeo, 1999).
As obesity becomes more of a health problem
for our children it is increasingly important
to encourage children to become more active.
Limiting screen time and removing televisions
from bedrooms can be important first steps
to encouraging children into a more physically
The Centers for Disease Control outline the
benefits of regular physical activity for
- Improves strength and endurance
- Helps build healthy bones, muscles, and
- Helps control weight, build lean muscle,
and reduce fat
- Reduces anxiety and stress, increases
self-esteem and overall energy level
- May improve blood pressure and cholesterol
- Prevents disease and promotes health
- Annenberg Public Policy Center (1999).
Media in the home. Access web site www.appcpenn.org/mediainhome/conference/
- Andersen, R. E., Crespo, C.J., Bartlett,
S. J., Cheskin, L. J., Pratt, M. (1998,
March 25). Relationship of physical activity
and television watching with body weight
and level of fatness among children. Journal
of the American Medical Association,
- Centers for Disease Control (2000). Physical
activity and youth. Available online at
- Crespo, Carlos J. DrPH, MS; Smit, Ellen,
PhD; Troiano, Richard P., PhD, RD; Bartlett,
Susan J., PhD; Macera, Caroline A., PhD;
Andersen, Ross E., PhD (2001, March 15).
Television watching, energy intake, and
obesity in US children. Archives of Pediatric
and Adolescent Medicine, 155, 360-365.
- Dennison MD, Barbara A., Erb MS, Tara
A., and Jenkins PhD, Paul L. (2002, June).
Television viewing and television in bedroom
associated with overweight risk among low-income
preschool children. Pediatrics, 109,
- Dietz, W. H., & Gortmaker, S. L.
(1985). Do we fatten our children at the
television set? Obesity and television viewing
in children and adolescents. Pediatrics,
- Gortmacher SL, et al (1996, April). Television
viewing as a cause of increasing obesity
among children in the United States, 1986-1990.
Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine,
- Janz, Kathleen F. EdD, Burns, Trudy PhD,
Torner, James C. PhD, Levy, Steven M. DDS,
Paulos, Richard, Willing, Marcia C. MD,
Warren, John J., DDS (2001, June). Physical
activity and bone measures in young children:
The Iowa bone development study. Pediatrics,
- Klesges, Robert C. PhD, Shelton, Mary
L. MS, Klesges, Lisa M. MS (1993, February).
Effects of television on metabolic rate:
Potential implications for childhood obesity.
Pediatrics, 91, 281-286.
- Robinson, Thomas N. MD, MPH (1999, October
27). Reducing children's television viewing
to prevent obesity. JAMA, 282, 1561-1567.
- Squires, Sally (1998, November 3). Obesity-linked
diabetes rising in children. Washington
Post, pZ07, accessed web site: www.usda.gov/cnpp/WP%20Obesity%20Article.htm
- Stettler, Nicolas, Signer, Theo, and
Suter, Paolo (2004, June). Electronic games
and environmental factors associated with
childhood obesity in Switzerland. Obesity
Research, 12, 896-903. Accessed: http://www.obesityresearch.org/
- Tomeo, Catherine A., Field, Alson E.,
Berkey, Catherine S., Colditz, Graham A.,
Frazier, A. Lindsay (1999, October). Weight
concerns, weight control behaviors, and
smoking initiation. Pediatrics, 104,
- Tremblay, M.S., Willms, J.D. (2003).
Is the Canadian child obesity epidemic related
to physical inactivity? International
Journal of Obesity, 27, 1100-1105.
- Troiano, Richard P., Flegal, Katherine
M. (1998, March). Overweight children and
adolescents: description, epidemiology,
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Last revised: 7/12/04