Student Well-Being

Study Links Childhood Obesity to Bedroom Televisions

By Alyssa Morones — March 10, 2014 1 min read
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Placing a television in a child’s bedroom might be more than just a distraction from their homework—according to a new study, it could also lead to excessive weight gain.

In coming to this conclusion, Dartmouth researchers used data collected over telephone from 6,522 children, 59 percent of whom had bedroom televisions. They ranged in age from 10 to 14 and came from all 50 states. After the original questionnaire, researchers conducted two- and four-year follow-ups.

They found that bedroom televisions were associated with a significantly higher change in body mass index; on average, the children gained about one extra pound each year. Researchers didn’t attribute this finding to the idea that students with TVs in their bedrooms watch more television. Rather, watching an hour of TV in the bedroom leads to more weight gain than watching an hour in the living room, Gilbert-Diamond said.

“We’ve known for a long time that watching TV is related to weight gain,” said researcher Diane Gilbert-Diamond in an interview. “But the magnitude of the association for bedroom TVs and weight gain was much larger than I expected.”

For researchers, one of their next steps will be to determine the cause behind the correlation. Gilbert-Diamond said researchers are interested in finding whether this weight gain is caused by disruptions to children’s sleep or whether they are exposed to more advertisements geared toward their demographic that would lead to unhealthy eating behaviors.

Additionally, researchers hope to see if this finding extends to other media devices, such as smartphones, tablets, or desktops.

A recent study suggested that, though childhood obesity seems to be leveling off, a stark contrast in its prevalence remains between adolescents from high- and low-socioeconomic backgrounds.

Gilbert-Diamond said she hopes that pediatricians, parents, teachers, and community leaders use this information to continue to battle the nation’s childhood obesity problem.

“It’s such a simple fix,” she said. “I think that it’s very hard as a parent to help guide kids in developing healthy habits, and I hope that this concrete message of getting media out of the bedroom can help.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.