Britain: a nation of Telly-tubbies?

When your children come home from school today, what’s the betting they’ll flop down in front of the telly, with just a brief detour to the kitchen to grab something to eat while they watch? British children and adolescents aged 5-16 spend on average 2.7 hours per day watching TV, according to a recent survey, with two in five of them able to access multi-channel TV in their own room.

The UK’s National Obesity Observatory has recently published a brief ‘evidence on a page’ report, discussing the evidence on TV viewing and obesity in children and young people. They did a simple search of two large databases of health research (Medline and Embase) looking for English language publications from the past ten years. The main points of their summary are:

  • Increased TV viewing time among children and young people is associated with a raised likelihood of overweight, resulting from a combination of unhealthy dietary habits, sedentary behaviour and exposure to TV advertising
  • In some countries (but not in Britain) it is recommended that children should watch less than two hours TV per day and avoid snacking and eating meals in front of the TV
  • The evidence for these effects comes primarily from observational studies, so it is not possible to establish a causal relationship between TV viewing and obesity
  • Interventions to reduce sedentary behaviour associated with TV viewing in young people show some promise
  • There is conflicting evidence on the impact of changes to advertising regulations on obesity and overweight

They call for more research on interventions to identify the most effective approaches to tackling these problems and on the impact of advertising regulations.

Today sees the launch of National Childhood Obesity Week, which aims to raise awareness of the dangers of being above a healthy weight during childhood and hopes to encourage more children and their families get active together. This is hosted by MEND (Mind, Exercise, Nutrition… Do it!), who are due to publish the findings of their survey on parents’ experiences of talking about weight with their children and the challenges they face.

Time for me to send those infant elves out to play!


National Obesity Observatory. TV viewing and obesity in children and young people (PDF). June 2012.

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Sarah Chapman

My name is Sarah Chapman. I have worked on systematic reviews and other types of research in many areas of health for the past 17 years, for the Cochrane Collaboration and for several UK higher education institutions including the University of Oxford and the Royal College of Nursing Institute. I also have a background in nursing and in the study of the History of Medicine.

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