Obesity Prevention: Screen and Sedentary Time
by Jari Love
In today’s age electronics and screens surround us. T.V, ipads, computers and smartphones are part of our daily lives. But more and more studies are linking the amount of time we spend with these screens and the associated “sit time” with obesity. In a recent article published by Harvard, researchers found that higher amounts of screen and “sit” time negatively impact both Body Mass Index (BMI) and overall health.
There is strong evidence to suggest that cutting back on T.V time can help with weight control in both children and adults.
- Early TV habits have long lasting effects. The more TV children watch, the more likely they are to be overweight. This tendency is particularly apparent in children who have T.V’s in their bedrooms. Not only this, but children who watch a lot of television are at a higher risk for obesity well into adulthood and mid-life.
- Trials designed to reduce children’s TV use, have found improvements in body mass index (BMI), body fat, and other obesity-related measures.
- In The Planet Health trial, for example, students assigned to receive lessons on the benefits of reduced TV time had lower rates of obesity in girls. While another trial found that third- and fourth-graders who received an 18-lesson “TV turnoff” curriculum cut back on TV time and on meals eaten while watching and had a relative decrease in BMI and other measures of body fatness.
- There is also evidence that the more television adults watch, the more likely they are to gain weight or become overweight or obese. Related to T.V linked obesity issues is evidence that too much TV watching also increases the risk of weight-related chronic diseases.
- The Nurses’ Health Study, as one among many similar studies, followed more than 50,000 middle-age women for six years. A summarized analysis of these studies found that for every two hours two hours spent watching TV, the risk of developing diabetes, developing heart disease, and early death increased by 20, 15, and 13 percent, respectively.
- A small pilot study in 36 men and women found that adults who cut their TV viewing time by half, compared to a control group with no limits on TV, burned more calories each day, and had a greater reduction in BMI than the control group.
- Screen and TV watching may contribute to obesity and poor health in several ways: by displacing physical activity, promoting poor diets, enabling poor snacking choices and by interfering with sleep.
- Many studies show that TV viewing is associated with greater calorie intake or poorer diet quality: food-related TV ads often promote high-calorie, low-nutrient foods and drinks; TV shows and movies frequently feature Branded products which are overwhelmingly for unhealthy foods; TV food ads influence food consumption, shows that feature food ads saw an increase of 45 percent in snack consumption than in shows with non-food advertising
- TV food and drink advertising to children ages 2–11 decreased from 2004 to 2008; however, advertising to adolescents (12–17) and adults (18–49) rose substantially in the same period. A recent review of the sugary drink advertising market found that children’s and teens’ exposure to sugary soda ads doubled from 2008 to 2010, with Coca Cola (a CFBAI member) and Dr. Pepper Snapple Group (not a member) leading the way.
- There are no overarching nutrition standards for what constitutes a “healthy” food or drink—and the future of such standards is a matter of hot political debate. Proposed standards, released in April 2011, have been met by strong resistance from the food and beverage industry and have been stymied by Congress.
- Game playing, sitting at work, driving, and obesity—have not been studied as extensively as TV watching. But there is evidence that these other forms of “sit time” can contribute to obesity
- There’s evidence that spending too much time sitting—at work or at home—increases the risk of becoming obese, and may also increase the risk of chronic diseases and early death. It is unclear whether sitting itself is the culprit, or whether sitting is just a marker of another unhealthy aspect of lifestyle. It’s also possible that other types of modern sedentary behaviors promote overeating in different ways: Reading or working on the computer, for example, may increase people’s stress and lead to overeating, while listening to music may distract people from noticing whether they are hungry or full.
- Overall, there is little doubt that time spent watching TV is an important risk factor for obesity—and a modifiable risk factor. There’s evidence that excessive marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages on television contributes to the TV–obesity link.
- Ways to curb exposure to TV and media: limit children’s screen time to no more than two hours per day–The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends no screen time for children under the age of 2; Make children’s bedrooms TV-free and Internet; advocate for stricter regulations on TV/media food and beverage advertising to children.
- Staying active helps with weight control, as does limiting sedentary activities—recreational computer time, driving, and the like. Replace “sit time” with “fit time”—walking or biking for part or all of a workday commute, instead of driving, or playing in the park instead of playing video games. Help creating an environments that supports active lifestyles, and be aware of media and advertising’s influence on your food intake and choices.
Jari Love – original creator of Get RIPPED! DVD series and group exercise classes. The hot-selling and critically acclaimed Get RIPPED! series enables individuals of any fitness level to burn up to three times more calories than the traditional weight-training program, and has received rave reviews from fitness critics throughout North America since the first title debuted in late 2005.