Too Much TV Linked With Asthma in Young Children

March 04, 2009 02:31 PM
by Emily Coakley
Sitting in front of the television for long periods has been linked to asthma in young children, another reason to get kids moving.

Asthma Risk Correlated With Television Watching

A newly published study in the British medical journal Thorax says that children who watched more than two hours of television a day were “almost twice as likely to have been diagnosed with” asthma as those who didn’t.

Asthma causes airways in the lungs to narrow, producing symptoms such as wheezing, chest tightening, coughing and difficulty breathing. It’s the most common chronic illness among children, according to Reuters, and affects 300 million people worldwide. It can be fatal if not managed properly.

The large study involved following more than 3,000 British children during the 1990s from around age 3 to age 12. Of those children, 6 percent had asthma at about age 12, though they had no symptoms of the condition earlier in their lives, Reuters reported.

The television itself doesn’t cause asthma, the inactivity of the child watching it does. The study doesn’t mention video games and computer use because they weren’t as available while the children were young. Though results suggested that “inactivity at a young age plays a role in the development of asthma,” according to an article in the Guardian.

In the Guardian piece, The British Medical Journal Group explained some of the study’s weaknesses. It didn’t take into account all the factors that could lead to a child developing asthma. “For example, they didn’t look at whether the fathers had a history of allergies or asthma, or whether family members smoked around the children,” according to the article. Also, the parents’ estimates of how long their kids spent watching television may have been incorrect.

But the study does have strengths, including the fact that it had a very large sample of children, and it followed them for several years.

According to the Guardian, parents with young children should remember that this study doesn’t say television watching causes asthma. “It shows only that watching more than two hours a day may put your child at higher risk, although researchers don’t yet know why.”

Parents who have kids that like to spend long periods of time in front of the television should consider “switching it off for a romp in the park, a walk to the library or some other physical activity,” because, as it points out, “we do know that sitting glued to the TV for hours every day isn’t great for anyone.”

Context: Television and obesity

Forgoing active play to watch television, play video games or spend time on the computer has long been considered a factor in the epidemic of childhood obesity seen in the United States and elsewhere.

Though childhood obesity rates don’t seem to be rising, obesity is still causing health problems such as asthma, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes for many affected.

Parents have long been urged to get their children moving, though being active during the cold winter months can be difficult.

Video games, long thought to be part of the problem, are making small inroads to being part of the solution. Games and gaming systems such as Dance Dance Revolution and Nintendo’s Wii are helping people become more active in their living rooms. They aren’t the entire solution, though. A British study of the Wii published in 2007 “revealed that, although Wii players burned 60 more calories an hour than Xbox players, children required more activity than provided by the video game,” according to findingDulcinea.

Reference: Children’s fitness Web guide; asthma resources online


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