Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Mothers Who Limit TV Time Have Slimmer Kids

            How much time kids spend with entertainment media is strongly linked to weight. More TV time generally means higher body weight. Many research studies have consistently shown this over the years. The possible reasons are many. More television watching may mean less physical activity. Watching television while eating may be related to “mindless eating” and eating more calories. Food advertising during children’s programs is aggressive and effective and the ads push sweet, high calorie foods like candy and sodas.
            However, can parents influence, for the better, the effects of media on their kids?  A new study shows that the answer may be “yes”. Researchers followed 112 mothers and 103 fathers of 213 children. They interviewed the children and their parents at ages five, seven, and nine and gave them physicals at each of those ages. They found that the children of mothers who did not monitor their entertainment viewing tended to be heavier at age seven than at age five. They also found that weight in general was more irregular over the whole study period with less motherly media monitoring. Fathers’ media monitoring did not have any influence on their children’s weights. The effects of the mothers’ monitoring were independent of the parents’ BMI, education, and income. So that means the media monitoring itself was related to lower body weight!
            This is an important study because it shows that parents may be able to influence their children’s weight by actively monitoring and restricting how much time they spend watching TV and playing video games. There may be other good reasons to limit your children’s media use. Studies show that too much media may also be linked to attention problems, eating and sleep disorders, and, of course, obesity. Too much media can have such a negative impact on our children’s health that the American Academy of Pediatrics actually has guidelines for how much media kids should be using.
The American Academy of Pediatrics Media & Children Guidelines:

  • All entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under 2 years old
  • Have a “screen free zone” meaning no entertainment media in children’s bedrooms or during dinner

  • Limit Children & Teens to 2 Hours or Less of High Quality Entertainment Media 

  • Encourage Children to Play Outside, Read, and Play Games
  • Set an Example By Limiting Your Own Media Time

       This study has its limitations. This kind of study cannot show cause and effect but there did seem to be a link between mothers’ media monitoring and their kids’ body weights. The study was done in Oregon and most of the children were Caucasian so we don’t know if these results apply other ethnic areas or geographic locations. Parents reported on their own behaviors and how much TV their children watched so they may not have provided completely accurate information. 

Beth Kitchin, PhD, RDN
Assistant Professor, Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham

American Academy of Pediatrics. www.aap.org. accessed 3/24/14.

Tiberio SS, Kerr DCR, Capaldi DM, Pears KC, Kim HK, & Nowicka PN. 2014. Parental monitoring of children’s media consumption: the long-term influences on body mass index in children. JAMA Pediatrics online.

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