As a parent, you probably know (or at least have an intuition that) there are many reasons not to use the television as a babysitter. If you’re unaware, it has been demonstrated that increased hours in front of the boob tube during adolescence leads to worse dietary habits, poorer sleep and obesity [1-3]. To top it off, researchers have now found that television may be responsible for decreased athletic potential .
This premise is probably no great surprise, still the implications should be carefully considered. With increasing tv time, the study authors found a measurable increase in waist circumference and a decrease in standing long jump performance. The children that watched the least amount of tv consistently scored best on the long jump test and had the smallest waist lines. Conversely, those that watched the most scored poorly on both accounts – even those that were very active!
The study authors postulate that the observed effect is due to the highly impressionable nature of young children. TV time becomes an entrenched habit in the early years and as the child grows older and more busy, they preferentially revert to this habit for leisure as opposed to something more active. Additionally, more time in front of the tv means more exposure to fast food and junk food advertisements targeting youngsters. When was the last time you saw an ad for a vegetable? I can’t remember too much of what I watched as a kid, but I sure as shit remember the Kool Aid man… “Oh Yeah!”
Though this was an observational study which makes it difficult to infer causailty, these interesting findings will hopefully spur follow on studies that can be better controlled. Until such time, get those kids outside… and don’t be put off by the myths about kids lifting weights!
 Boynton-Jarrett R, Thomas TN, Peterson KE, Wiecha J, Sobol AM, Gortmaker SL: Impact of television viewing patterns on fruit and vegetable consumption among adolescents. Pediatrics 2003, 112:1321–1326.
 Owens J, Maxim R, McGuinn M, Nobile C, Msall M, Alario A: Television-viewing habits and sleep disturbance in school children. Pediatrics 1999, 104:e27.
 Robinson TN: Reducing children’s television viewing to prevent obesity a randomized controlled trial. JAMA 1999, 282:1561–1567.
 Fitzpatrick, C., et al. Early Childhood Television Viewing Predicts Explosive Leg Strength and Waist Circumference by Middle Childhood. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2012. 9(1), 87-93.