Children who get more than two hours’ screen time a day and those who often eat dinner in front of the TV are more likely to be overweight or obese, a VicHealth report has found.
The research, conducted by Associate Professor Anna Timperio from the Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research at Deakin University, focuses on understanding the factors which lead to children becoming overweight or obese.
Almost one in four Australian children are overweight or obese – expected to be one in three by 2025.
According to VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter, some of the key risk factors include inadequate fruit and vegetable intake and lack of physical activity.
“Children often eat less than the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables, only one in five get the recommended hour of physical activity every day, and fewer than one in three meets the recommendation for daily screen time limits,” says Rechter.
“This report reveals that over-use of electronic devices such as televisions, computers and electronic gaming consoles are linked to negative health consequences for children.
“In disadvantaged communities, having a TV in a child’s room and using it as a reward has been linked with children being more overweight.”
She says children who are obese are more likely than their peers to develop asthma, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular conditions and some cancers.
Prof Timperio says that while many parents are concerned about the amount of time their children spend watching TV, their parenting strategies are often inconsistent with their concerns.
“For example, parents might allow children to eat in front of the TV or use screen time as a reward for good behaviour,” she says. “These strategies are likely to be counter-productive if they are trying to reduce screen time.”
She says important transitions in a child’s life can present opportunities for maintaining healthy lifestyle habits.
“As children move from primary to secondary school they’re less likely to be physically active during lunch and recess, outside school hours, and on weekends.
“Children spend a significant amount of their time at school, so school is an important setting in which to tackle declines in physical activity as they move from primary to secondary school.”
Children whose parents eat breakfast, and girls whose parents report high levels of physical activity are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables at least five times a day.
And for both boys and girls, the children of parents who are very physically active are also likely to be very physically active.