Just one hour of TV daily can make children obese – study

Preschool children who watched an hour a day were 50-60% more likely to be overweight

Even preschool children are at risk of becoming couch potatoes if they watch too much television, according to a study from the US.

Children who watched just an hour a day were 50 to 60 per cent more likely to be overweight and 58 to 73 per cent more likely to be obese. This was compared to a child that watched from 30 to 60 minutes a day.

The findings were presented in San Diego on Sunday at the Paediatric Academic Societies annual meeting.

Earlier studies have made the link between TV watching and weight issues but this is the first that assesses the risk at preschool age.


The study by researchers at the University of Virginia involved more than 11,000 children in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey. It included children who were in kindergarten during the 2011-12 school year. Children were measured for height and weight and this was repeated a year later.

The study showed the preschoolers watched an average of 3.3 hours of TV a day. Those watching more than one hour a day had “significantly higher body mass indexes” than those who watched an hour or less, even after adjusting for socioeconomic factors.

The study also showed those watching an hour or more were 39 per cent more likely to become overweight and 86 per cent more likely to become obese in the transition between preschool level and first class.

Parents should attempt to restrict childhood TV viewing, even below the current two hour limit recommended by the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP), said study author Dr Mark DeBoer, associate professor of paediatrics at the University of Virginia.

“Given the data presented in this study the AAP may wish to lower its recommended TV viewing allowances,” he said.

Ireland has not escaped the obesity crisis that has affected most of the western world.

The Growing Up In Ireland longitudinal study looking at overweight and obesity in nine-year-olds showed that one in four children in the survey were above their correct weight. On average 19 per cent were overweight and 7 per cent were obese.

The figures were slightly worse for girls with 22 per cent overweight and 8 per cent obese, while 17 per cent of boys were over weight and 5 per cent obese.

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom, a contributor to The Irish Times, is the newspaper's former Science Editor.