Telly puts kids in obesity hotseat

According to new research, the simple act of switching on the television for some downtime could be making a bigger contribution to childhood obesity than we realise, writes KINETA BOOKER.

It’s a tale as old as time, that the less active we are, the bigger we get. But this new research from the University of South Australia specifically investigated the impact of different sitting behaviours. It included watching television, playing video games, playing on the computer, sitting down to eat, or travelling in a car – and found that watching TV is more strongly associated with obesity in both boys and girls than any other type of sitting.

While childhood obesity is a global issue, data from The New Zealand Health Survey 2017/2018 shows that 21 per cent of children (aged 2-12) are overweight, and around one in eight are obese.

The study assessed the sedentary behaviours of 234 children aged 10-13 years who were either a healthy weight (74 boys, 56 girls) or classified as obese (56 boys, 48 girls).

It found that, excluding sleep, children spent more than 50 per cent of their day sitting, with television dominating their time for 2.5-3 hours each day.

UniSA researcher, Dr Margarita Tsiros says that the study also found differences between the sitting behaviours of boys and girls.

“Boys not only watched more TV than girls – an extra 37 minutes per day – but also spent significantly more time playing video games. Video gaming and computer use are popular past times, but our data suggests these activities may be linked with higher body fat in boys,” Dr Tsiros says.

“Boys who are sitting for longer than 30 minutes may also have higher body fat, so it’s important to monitor their screen and sitting time and ensure they take regular breaks,” she says.

Dr Tsiros says that setting children up on a path towards a healthy weight is extremely important to their health now and in the future.

New Zealand has the third highest adult obesity rate in the OECD, and our rates are rising, with almost two-thirds of adults overweight, and one in three adult New Zealanders (over 15 years) classed as obese.

“An overweight child is more likely to grow up into an overweight adult, so the importance of tackling unhealthy behaviours in childhood is critical. They may also experience reduced wellbeing, social and self-esteem issues, along with pain and difficulties with movement and activity,” Dr Tsiros says.

As parents, we’re smart. We know all of this. We read all these stats, and constantly hear about new research but what can we do about it?

Internationally, childhood physical inactivity has reached crisis levels with many children not moving enough to maintain healthy growth and development. By understanding our children’s sedentary behaviours, especially those that are placing our kids at risk, will help us ensure they stay on a better path towards a healthier weight.

Time to turn off the telly, pop on your sneakers and head outdoors with them? Sure, it’s tough to walk away from a Netflix binge session but, remember, our little ones learn from every single thing we do.