Fact File: TV and Children’s Health

by David Egan on June 2, 2012

TV watching child health

Kids who watch too much TV have a greater risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Too much TV has also been linked to poor performance in school!

Did you realise that TV watching is associated with poor health in children? Did you know that children who watch a lot of TV tend to do less well in school? Did you know that when younger children watch a lot of TV, their brain development may be affected?

Regular physical activity is essential for good health, yet many children spend long hours completely passive in front of the TV. The average child watches TV for almost 3 hours per day.

This means that by the time a child reaches the age of 70, they will have spent almost 9 years watching TV. Over the course of a year, most children spend more time watching TV than they spend in school. Our work shows that:

  • 30% of primary school students watch TV for more than 3 hours per day
  • Over 50% of students have a TV in their bedroom
  • 20% of secondary school students watch TV for more than three hours per day

These statistics are based on what students themselves reported during our surveys. When we give workshops on this issue, we find that older children are usually pretty embarrassed about the amount of TV they watch. We suspect that this leads them to under-estimate their hours spent watching TV.

…And it’s Not Just TV

According to a recent (2010) study carried out by the London School of Economics, UK children aged between 9 and 16 spend on average 1 hour and 40 minutes online per day.

Excessive use of the internet is very high among children in the UK with one in five admitting they have gone without food or sleep to stay online – the study also shows that more than half of young people confess they spend less time than they should on family, friends or schoolwork because of the internet.

Even with the increase in internet usage, television still has the strongest grip on children and accounts for the lions share of their leisure time.

What’s the Problem?

Spending too much time in front of a screen reduces the amount of time that children have to be physically active – but this isn’t the only issue. We carried out a brief review of scientific studies that covered TV watching in children, and what we found is pretty disturbing.

Arrested Development

Studies show that kids who watch a lot of television do less well in school, and that children with a TV in their bedroom tend to do less well in academic tests. Infants younger than 18 months who are exposed to TV may suffer from a delay in language development – the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of 2 should not watch any television.

TV Kids: Couch Potato Generation

Children who watch a lot of television are more likely to become overweight, and children with a TV in their bedroom are at an even greater risk. Too much TV is also associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

Children tend to ignore their natural sleep rhythms when watching television, and this may lead to daytime fatigue.

The Bottom Line?

Too much TV is unhealthy – the more television your child watches, the less likely they are to do well in school and the greater their chance of becoming overweight.

We should control the TV – the TV should not control us! If you are worried about the amount of television your family watches, check out our 12 top tips to control TV watching.

Do you worry about how much screen time your child gets? Do you have any ideas on how to limit their screen time? Please leave a comment below.

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