Toss TVs from Kids’ Rooms

Date: 03/20/2014    Written by: Beth Levine

Toss TVs from Kids’ Rooms

Let's face it, parenting isn't easy. It can be tough to keep the kids busy and entertained for hours, especially in the evening when you might be ready for a little downtime with your spouse. Which is probably one of the main reasons why so many parents readily agree to put a television in their little ones' rooms. Well, that and getting to sleep in sometimes on weekend mornings. When your child is engrossed in a cartoon or movie, it frees up some time for mom and dad, and everyone ends up happy. Except that new research has found that this particular parenting choice may lead to kids gaining excess weight.

The study, which took place at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, established a link between having a television in the bedroom and heavier children.1 The subjects were 3,055 kids between the ages of 10 and 14 and their parents. Telephone surveys were conducted in two-year intervals between 2003 and 2007 to gather some overall lifestyle data. The researchers discovered that those participants who had a TV in their rooms added approximately one extra pound of weight each year for all four years of the study when compared to their peers who did not have a bedroom TV.

While one could easily make the case that kids can watch just as much TV from some other room in the home, it appears to be something about having the set in their own bedroom that made the difference. In fact, the scientists controlled for a variety of factors including the total amount of time spent watching television as well as socioeconomic background, parenting approach, and degree of education and having a TV in the bedroom was consistently associated with more weight gain. Although the study was not set up to prove cause-and-effect, it certainly points toward bedroom viewing as problematic.

But why is it that having a TV in the bedroom leads to weight gain when plenty of kids watch for hours on end in other rooms of the home?  There are a number of possible answers to that question. Perhaps viewing time, despite what the researchers found, is simply longer when a child doesn't have to compete for a shared set. It might be easier to settle in for the long haul, spending all afternoon watching the movie or shows of choice when no one is saying it's their turn to select a channel.  Because if the TV is in the living room and Johnny's been watching for an hour, when his little sister comes in to watch Dora the Explorer, he's most likely going to leave. And once he gets up, there's at least some chance that he will ride a bike to a friend's, shoot some hoops in the driveway, or even get stuck doing his chores--any of which is more active than TV time--as opposed to just moving along to the screen of his tablet, phone, or computer.

Then again, previous studies have shown that every additional hour of TV exposure among toddlers--no matter what room it's in--corresponds to a future decrease in classroom engagement and success at math, increased victimization by classmates, a more sedentary lifestyle, higher consumption of junk food and, ultimately, higher body mass index. The bottom line is that TV viewing is counterproductive for children no matter what room it's in, but having a TV in a child's room most likely makes things even worse.

Plus, a 2011 National Sleep Foundation poll found that both the quantity and quality of sleep is worse when we spend time looking at a screen before bed.2 This is true for both adults and children. And fewer hours of slumber was shown in a 2011 study at the University of Chicago to affect weight so that even dieters didn't lose fat.3  A single pound per year might not seem like such a big deal, but the effect was cumulative, creating a difference of four pounds by age 14. And kids carrying excess weight during childhood not only tend to stay heavier throughout adolescence, but the problem often escalates even further when they reach adulthood.

It might be difficult to unplug your 17-year-old, but if you have younger kids, don't let them get started spending screen time in the bedroom. Keep TVs, computers, and even phones off-limits from sleeping quarters to promote better habits. And be a good role model yourself. As painful as it may be, remove all of those electronic devices from your bedroom too. You just might find you will be sleeping more soundly than you have in years.

  • 1. Alexander, Brian. "TVs in Kids' Bedrooms Tied to Extra Pounds." NBC News. 3 March 2014. Accessed 12 March 2014.
  • 2. "Annual Sleep in America Poll Exploring Connections with Communications Technology Use and Sleep." National Sleep Foundation. 7 March 2011. Accessed 14 March 2014.
  • 3. Nedeltcheva, Arlet V.; et al. "Insufficient Sleep Undermines Dietary Efforts to Reduce Adiposity." Annals of Internal Medicine. 5 October 2010. Accessed 14 March 2014.

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