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TV Watching for Kids Linked to Smoking & Obesity

Commercial Alert, July 19, 2004

Last week, the British medical journal Lancet published an important study
showing that children who watch more than two hours of television per day
are more likely to smoke or become obese when they become adults.

This new study ³strengthen[s] the case for a ban on food advertisements
aimed at children,² write Harvard¹s David Ludwig and Steven Gortmaker in an
accompanying commentary. ³The argument for action is based not only on
strong scientific evidence, but also on common sense. In an era when
childhood obesity has reached crisis proportions, the commercial food
industry has no business telling toddlers to consume fast food, soft drinks
and high-calorie low-quality snacks, all products linked to excessive weight
gainS.A precedent for restrictions on the marketing of products deemed
harmful to children already exists ­ tobacco....Measures to limit television
viewing in childhood and ban food advertisements aimed at children are
warranted before another generation is programmed to become obese.²

Following is an Associated Press article about the study and commentary.

Study Links Kids' Obesity to Watching TV

Children who watch more than two hours of television a night seem to be at
higher risk of becoming smokers or being fat, out of shape or having high
cholesterol as adults, according to a new study.

Watching TV in childhood and adolescence has long been linked to adverse
health indicators, including obesity, poor fitness and high cholesterol, but
the study published Friday in The Lancet was the first to track a group from
birth to adulthood.

Dr. David Ludwig, director of the obesity program at Children's Hospital in
Boston, and Steven Gortmaker, a sociology lecturer at the Harvard School of
Public Health, said the data indicate television viewing in childhood has
``serious long-term consequences'' and strengthen ``the case for a ban on
food advertisements aimed at children.'' Neither was connected with the

The researchers from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development
Research Unit assessed some 1,000 people born in Dunedin, New Zealand, in
1972-73, at regular intervals until age 26. They investigated associations
between childhood TV viewing and body-mass index, or BMI, cardio-respiratory
fitness, cholesterol level, smoking status and blood pressure.

They found that even an average weeknight viewing of one to two hours
between the ages of 5 and 15 was associated with higher body-mass indices,
lower cardio-respiratory fitness, increased smoking and raised cholesterol.

This was the case even after they adjusted for such factors as family
economics, the smoking habits and weight of the parents, and the children's
size at age 5.

The study found that among 26-year-olds, 17 percent of overweight, 15
percent of raised cholesterol, 17 percent of smoking and 15 percent of poor
fitness could be attributed to watching television for more than two hours a
day during childhood and adolescence.

The researchers noted that, as in any observational study, they couldn't
prove TV viewing caused health problems.

``Television viewing might be a marker for some unidentified determinant of
adult health, and individuals who have a natural tendency to obesity and
poor physical fitness might prefer to watch television than do other
activities,'' they wrote.

The researchers said several childhood behaviors -- including physical
activity and diet -- could explain the association between TV viewing and

For example, watching television could affect fitness and obesity by taking
the place of more active pursuits, they said, adding that TV advertising in
New Zealand also tends to promote an unhealthy diet.

The researchers said watching TV might also influence other behaviors, such
as cigarette smoking, which ``we found to be significantly associated with
television viewing.''

Although TV advertising of tobacco was banned in New Zealand before study
members were born, programs have continued to show frequent images of
smoking during children's viewing time, they said. Tobacco sponsorship for
sports events continued until 1995.

The report said it could not define a safe level of TV viewing because it
couldn't find enough people who watched no television to serve as a control
group, but those who watched an hour or less a day were the healthiest.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents limit their
child's viewing to two hours a day.

``Clearly, obesity is a complex condition, with numerous genetic,
environmental and psychosocial contributing factors. However, (this) should
not be an excuse for inaction,'' Ludwig and Gortmaker wrote in a separate
commentary in the Lancet.

``Measures to limit television viewing in childhood and ban food
advertisements aimed at children are warranted, before another generation is
programmed to become obese.''

<-------article ends here------->

The Lancet study and accompanying commentary are available at:

Commercial Alert¹s web page on television is at:

About Commercial Alert
Commercial Alert is a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to
keep the commercial culture within its proper sphere, and to prevent it from
exploiting children and subverting the higher values of family, community,
environmental integrity and democracy. For more information, go to

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