WASHINGTON - The more three-year-olds watch television, the more sugary drinks they consume, and the extra calories turn into extra weight, a US study published Wednesday showed.
Harvard Medical School researchers presented the results of the study of 1,203 children at the American Heart Association’s annual conference on cardiovascular disease and prevention, in Orlando, Florida.
For every one-hour increase in television viewing per day, the children consumed an additional 46 calories, Sonia Miller, the lead author of the study and a Harvard medical student, said in a statement.
“Although 46 calories a day doesn’t sound like much, it can make a difference in weight over time,” said Matthew Gillman, a senior author of the study and director of Harvard’s obesity prevention program.
“Studies estimate that you can explain the amount of excess weight gain in the US adolescent population over the past 10 years or so with the addition of only 150 calories a day,” Gillman said in the statement.
“If this ‘energy gap´ also applies to younger children, then each hour of daily TV or video watching could explain about one-third of that increase,” he said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against television or video viewing by children under age two. Above that age, it recommends no more than two hours of screen viewing per day.
“The most important thing to note is that the obesity epidemic in this country involves not just adults, not just adolescents, not just school-age children, but all the way down to infants,” Gillman said.
“And once a child is obese, it is very hard to treat. So obesity prevention is the way to go.”
Of the 1,203 children studied, 87 percent came from families with incomes greater than 40,000 dollars a year and 72 percent of their mothers had at least a college degree.
The American Heart Association recommends that children not be allowed to have a television set in their bedrooms and encourages an hour of moderate-to-vigorous play or physical activity a day.