“TV Allowance” – A Breakthrough In Reducing Childhood Obesity?

I suppose I should be proud to say this amazingly simple product, TV Allowance, was developed at a university in my locality.  Researchers came up with a large-calculator-sized device that lets families program “budgets” into their home televisions and computers, decreasing the available screen time from 10% to 50% over a period of several months.  They then studied 70 children of both genders between age 4 and 7 who had a higher-than-average BMI and watched TV or played computer games a minimum of 14 hours per week.  Along with the reduced screen time, the kids were also given inducements; monetary rewards and praise were doled out for doing something other than sitting idle in front of the boob tube.  Parents who reduced their family’s weekly video availability by 17.5 hours on average wound up with kids who ate less and lowered their BMIs.  The two-year study appears in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

“Results showed that watching television and playing computer games can lead to obesity by reducing the amount of time that children are physically active, or by increasing the amount of food they consume as they are engaged in these sedentary behaviors,” said one of the study’s authors.

The author, while admitting the overall changes were “modest,” believes the use of this device across the population may produce “important reductions in obesity and obesity-related health problems.”  Additionally, while it did reduce the time these kids were in front of a video screen, it did NOT increase their physical activity.  The study’s assumption is that the restriction minimizes cues to eat by limiting the number of child-targeted food ads to which this demographic is exposed.

So, is the underlying problem the amount of time these little couch potatoes sit doing nothing, or is it the continuous bombardment of sugar-peddling marketing schemes on their impressionable minds?  If they weren’t being active, as the study found, what were they doing?  Reading?  Meditating? 

So these kids “ate less” and had “modest” changes in BMI over a two year period.  Can someone do a study letting a similar group watch whatever they want but restrict their carb intake?

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One thought on ““TV Allowance” – A Breakthrough In Reducing Childhood Obesity?

  1. Love the question about what they were doing if they weren’t watching TV! Unfortunately, they were likely to be spending time with other electronics, which may explain why physical activity didn’t increase.

    As a children’s physical activity specialist, the results of this study have really disturbed me. Surely other electronics have to be the answer! Otherwise, they certainly would have to have increased their physical activity levels — because it’s doubtful they were reading or meditating.

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