Couch Potato Children Risk High Blood Pressure

August 12, 2009 10:15 AM
by Shannon Firth
Children who watch more TV have higher blood pressure than those who watch less, according to a new study. Previous studies suggest relationships between watching TV, and asthma and ADHD.

Parents Reminded to Curb Children’s TV Time

For four years, Michigan State University researchers monitored the behavior of 111 children, ages 3 to 8, to better grasp the impact of media exposure on their health, The New York Times reported.

Using a special motion-tracking monitor, surveys from parents and a recording of each child’s body fat, researchers found that children who watched 1.5 to 5.5 hours of TV each day had higher diastolic and systolic blood pressure than those who watched less than half an hour each day. The results held “even if the children are thin and get enough exercise,” the Times reported.

Curiously, changes in blood pressure were associated with TV viewing and “screen time”—comprised of time spent watching or using a TV, video, computer or video game—and not the wider spectrum of sedentary behaviors, reported.

Previous studies have tied inactivity to obesity, which is associated with high blood pressure, Joe Eisenmann, the study’s coauthor, explained to “[B]ut this is the first time that we’ve linked those [sedentary] behaviors directly to elevated blood pressure,” Eisenmann said.

Still, there are other related factors that need to be considered. “TV viewing often comes with unhealthy snacking behavior and also can lead to stress responses that disrupt sleep,” Eisenmann told

According to The New York Times, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to restrict children to no more than two hours of “high quality television” per day.

The study was published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine in August.

Background: How much TV do kids watch?

According to KidsHealth, which cited research from the Kaiser Family Foundation, “kids under age 6 watch an average of about 2 hours of screen media a day, primarily TV and videos or DVDs.” The “screen time” average doubles for children who are 8 to 18 years old; this age group also spends almost two more hours on the computer or playing video games.

Related Topic: TV and asthma; TV and brain development

In March, a British study found that children who spent a lot of time watching TV nearly doubled their risk for asthma. The television itself doesn’t cause asthma; the inactivity of the child watching it does.

The Guardian took a closer look at the British study and suggested that the study neglected other factors that might contribute to asthma, such as a family history of asthma, and “whether family members smoked around the children.”

Research on television and early childhood development, specifically brain development, has also shown conflicting results. Certain studies have demonstrated that allowing babies and toddlers to watch TV puts them at risk for ADHD. Another study found that the risks and benefits were specific to certain phases in development. According to the University of Michigan Health System, “One study found that TV viewing before age three slightly hurt several measures of later cognitive development, but that between ages three and five it slightly helped reading scores.”

Reference: Children and television

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ site features a Q&A for parents concerned about their children’s viewing habits, along with special tips. “Whenever possible, watch TV with your children and talk about what they see,” the article advises.

NEXT: France Eliminates TV Programming Aimed at Toddlers >

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