Researchers at the University College London in the U.K. used data from more than 12,000 children, and found that roughly half of the children in the sample had a TV in their bedroom by the age of 7.
Girls with a TV in their bedroom were found to be at a 30 per cent higher risk of being overweight at the age of 11; for boys the risk increased by about 20 per cent.
“Our study shows that there is a clear link between having a TV in the bedroom as a young child and being overweight a few years later,” said Dr. Anja Heilmann, with the UCL’s Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care.
Heilmann calls having a TV in the bedroom an “independent risk factor” for being overweight.
“Childhood obesity prevention strategies should consider TVs in children’s bedrooms as a risk factor for obesity.”
Other obesity-linked factors were taken into consideration by researchers such as household income, irregular bedtimes, and physical activity.
The mothers’ BMI was taken into account as a measure of food environment in the household, and potential genetic factors. As well, the BMI of the children at age 3 was examined for reverse causation — if the child spent more time being sedentary due to being overweight in the first place.
Myriad factors contribute to childhood obesity, researchers note, and the elimination of screen time isn’t a fix-all solution.
“The causes of overweight and obesity are complex and multiple,” said Heilmann. “Screen time is part of the bigger picture and further research is needed among older children and adolescents, as the use of screen-based media including computers, mobile phones and tablets increases with age.”
Canadian experts examining the issue recently issued guidelines for parents when it comes to screen time for their tots.
WATCH: Canadian Paediatric Society released new screen time guidelines for parents
The Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) says kids under the age of two shouldn’t be getting any screen time at all; children aged two to five years old should have less than one hour per day.
And screens of all types should be avoided for at least one hour before bedtime, the CPS experts said.
CPS offered some tips for parents to help their children develop healthy viewing habits:
- Prioritize educational, age-appropriate and interactive programming;
- Be present and engaged when screens are used and co-view with children;
- Turn off screens when not in use and avoid background TV;
- Be aware of how adults’ use of screens can influence children.
— With files from Carmen Chai and Allison Vuchnich