NEW Spanish research has found that watching TV appears to be the lifestyle factor most strongly associated with the risk of children being overweight or obese.
Led by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), the new study looked at data gathered from 1,480 Spanish children.
The researchers assessed five of the children's lifestyle habits — physical activity, sleep time, TV time, plant-based food consumption and ultraprocessed food consumption — by asking parents to complete questionnaires on their child's habits at age four.
The researchers also measured the children's body mass index (BMI), waist circumference and blood pressure at four and seven years of age.
The findings, published in the journal Pediatric Obesity, showed that of the five behaviours analysed in the study, TV watching had the strongest association with overweight and obesity.
Children who were less active and spent more sedentary time in front of the TV at age four were more likely to be overweight, obese or have metabolic syndrome at age seven.
However, when the researchers looked at the time spent being sedentary doing other activities such as reading, drawing and doing puzzles, these activities did not appear to be associated with overweight or obesity.
“Most research to date has focused on the impact of individual lifestyle behaviours rather than cumulative effects,” commented Martine Vrijheid, coleader of the study.
“However, it is well known that unhealthy behaviours tend to overlap and interrelate.”
Researcher Sílvia Fernández added that watching TV “discourages physical activity and interrupts sleep time”.
The team added that getting enough sleep in early childhood is essential for maintaining a healthy weight later in childhood.
“Previous studies have shown that 45 per cent of children are not sleeping the recommended number of hours per night,” explained Fernández.
“This is worrying because shorter sleep time tends to be associated with obesity.”
The results also showed that high intake of ultra-processed foods at the age of four, such as pastries, sweet beverages and refined-grain products, which are high in sugar, salt and saturated fat and low in nutritional value, was associated with a higher BMI at age seven.
Again, the researchers say TV watching could also be impacting this lifestyle behaviour.
“When children watch television they see a huge number of advertisements for unhealthy food,” commented Dora Romague-ra, co-leader of the study. “This may encourage them to consume these products.”
The researchers concluded that setting healthy lifestyle habits during childhood, including limited TV time, extracurricular physical activity, getting enough hours of sleep, eating lots of vegetables, and avoiding ultra-processed foods, are important for good health during adulthood.