Sitting down to watch TV makes a more significant contribution to obesity in children, finds a new study by the University of South Australia. The researchers studied the impact of different seating behaviors such as watching TV, playing computer or video games, traveling in a car, sitting down to eat and so on. Watching television is more strongly linked to childhood obesity in both boys and girls than any other types of sitting.
While childhood obesity is a global issue, data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2017-18 show that in Australia almost a quarter of children aged 5-17 years are considered overweight or obese.
UniSA researcher, Dr Margarita Tsiros says the study provides new insights about the impact of sedentary behaviours on children. "It's no surprise that the more inactive a child is, the greater their risk of being overweight," Dr Tsiros says.
"For instance, some types of sitting are more strongly associated with body fat in children than others, and time spent watching TV seems to be the worst culprit."
The study assessed the sedentary behaviours of 234 Australian children aged 10-13 years who either were of a healthy weight (74 boys, 56 girls) or classified as obese (56 boys, 48 girls). It found that, excluding sleep, children spent more than 50 per cent of their day sitting, with television dominating their time for 2.5 - 3 hours each day.
Dr Tsiros says that the study also found differences between the sitting behaviours of boys and girls. "Boys not only watched more TV than girls - an extra 37 minutes per day - but also spent significantly more time playing video games," Dr Tsiros says.
"Video gaming and computer use are popular past times, but our data suggests these activities may be linked with higher body fat in boys. "Boys who are sitting for longer than 30 minutes may also have higher body fat, so it's important to monitor their screen and sitting time and ensure they take regular breaks."
Dr Tsiros says that setting children up on a path towards a healthy weight is extremely important to their health now and in the future. "When we look at adult obesity, almost two thirds of Australians are overweight or obese, which is causing many serious health issues," Dr Tsiros says.
"An overweight child is more likely to grow up into an overweight adult, so the importance of tackling unhealthy behaviours in childhood is critical. Children who are obese have an increased risk of developing serious health disorders, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol.
"They may also experience reduced wellbeing, social and self-esteem issues, along with pain and difficulties with movement and activity.
"By understanding children's sedentary behaviors - especially those that are placing our kids at risk - we'll ensure they stay on a better path towards a healthier weight."