FYI Research: Study shows children watch too much TV

A study by the University's Carolina Population Center shows that American children spend too much time plopped in front of the television and not enough time exercising, a habit that could lead to health complications associated with obesity.

The study, unique for its inclusion of many subgroups of the American population, used confidential responses from 13,000 student teenagers surveyed by the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The students attended grades seven through 12 in U.S. schools in 1996 and answered questions about their habits and activities.

Findings among boys showed that whites spent 14.4 hours weekly watching television, Asians spent 15, Hispanics spent 16.6 and blacks 20.8. For females, whites averaged 11.9 hours of weekly television watching, Asians 12.8, Hispanics 14.6 and blacks 20.

Only one-third of adolescents said they were moderately to vigorously active five or more times a week, and one-third failed to meet minimum public health recommendations for physical activity.

Study co-author Robert G. McMurray, professor of physical education, exercise and sport science, said the minimum requirement is at least 30 minutes of moderately intensive activity three times per week.

Work in the last 10 years has detailed the increasing inactivity of American kids, but the researchers felt it was necessary to include a broader spectrum of the population.

"As we expected, this work confirms that physical activity is very low for American kids," said Penny Gordon-Larsen, Dannon Institute postdoctoral fellow in interdisciplinary nutrition science at the Carolina Population Center. "Childhood and adolescent obesity is a major public health problem for American youth, particularly because it is increasing rapidly, lasts into adulthood and is associated with illness and premature death."

The researchers combined several activities -- such as watching television, watching videos and playing computer games -- into an "inactivity" category, while any activity that effectively increases the heart rate was considered active.

"Sitting around isn't going to do it," said Barry M. Popkin, professor of nutrition at the School of Public Health and School of Medicine, who helped conduct the study. "And American kids are doing that a lot."

While the study indicates that all children are spending little time being active, members of minority groups are spending less.

"It shows that we really need to provide opportunities for adolescents to be more active through community centers or especially physical education classes in school," Gordon-Larsen said. "Programs aimed at minority adolescents are even more important because those young people seem to have the highest risks."

A full report of the study's findings appears in the September issue of the Journal of Pediatrics.

FYI Research provided by Graduate Studies and Research

Writer: Brady Huggett

Editor: Neil Caudle

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