redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
Middle school students who watch at least two hours of television per day are more likely to experience cardiovascular disease risk factors than those spending an equal amount of time surfing the Internet or playing video games, according to a new study backed by the Project Healthy Schools (PHS) program.
The study, which was presented during the American College of Cardiology’s (AAC) 63rd Annual Scientific Sessions, found that excessive TV viewing habits among members of that age group was also associated with an increased likelihood of consuming junk food.
“While too much of both types of screen time encourages sedentary behavior, our study suggests high TV time in particular is associated with poorer food choices and increased cardiovascular risk,” senior author Dr. Elizabeth Jackson, an associate professor in the University of Michigan Systems Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, explained in a statement Friday.
Dr. Jackson and her colleagues reported that sixth-grade students who reported viewing between two and six hours of television each day were more likely to have higher body mass index, elevated systolic and diastolic blood pressure and slower recovery heart rate when compared to those reporting lower levels of screen time and those reporting a comparable amount of computer or video game console use.
The study authors recruited 1,003 sixth-graders from 24 southeastern Michigan middle schools participating in the PHS program, a school-based initiative designed to reduce childhood obesity and the long-term health risks associated with the condition. The authors said this marks the first time that experts have analyzed the impact of different types of screen time on snacking habits and physiological measures associated with heart health.
Using standardized questionnaires, the researchers collected information about the students’ health behaviors, including the type and frequency of screen time, snacking habits and the types of food and beverages consumed during the last 24 hours. They also collected physiological measurements such as height, weight, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and heart rate recovery following exercise.
The pupils were divided into three groups based on the amount and type of screen time, and the investigators then compared the self-reported snack behavior and physiologic markers of each. They found that kids who spent two to six hours per day in front of a screen – regardless if they were watching TV, playing video games or working on a computer – were more likely to snack more frequently and were less likely to make healthy choices.
However, children who spent those two to six hours per day watching television programs were more likely than high computer or video game users to consume French fries, chips or other foods high in fat. Jackson believes this is because they are inundated by commercials that tend to reinforce foods that are less healthy, and because they have free hands – unlike those youngsters typing on keyboards or operating game controllers.
“Snacks are important, and choosing a piece of fruit rather than a bag of chips can make a really big difference for one’s health,” said Jackson. “Parents need to monitor their kids’ activities. Our results offer even more reason to limit the amount of TV time kids have and are right in line with current recommendations.”
Despite American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations that children be limited to less than two hours of screen time per day, the AAC said that kids actually spend more than seven hours each day with entertainment media, including 4.5 hours watching television. The new study did not collect information about whether the snacking occurred while watching TV, and did not include video consoles that promote activity, such as the Nintendo Wii.
“The wealth of studies now show a significant link between being overweight in childhood and continuing that trend into adulthood. The more we can change behavior early on to promote healthy weight and dietary habits, the more likely we will be able to reduce adult-related problems including heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure,” Jackson explained, adding that additional research would be needed in order to discover effective ways to limit unhealthy snacking and TV viewing, while also promoting healthy foods and activities.