Here are the facts from some recent studies:
- The more TV watching time, even during early years of life, the greater the risk of a "thick waist" and less "muscular fitness."
- Playing sports does help teens fight fat.
Do either of these bullet points really surprise you? Let's examine the first study. Researchers at University of Montreal studied about 1300 children from various areas around Quebec. They asked parents of 2 and 4 year olds, how much TV viewing time the children were exposed to. On average, the 2 year olds watched 9 hrs of TV weekly; by age 4, TV viewing time had increased to, on average, 15 hrs per week.
When the children reached second and 4th grade, experts took waist size measurements and had the children perform standing long jump, to measure "explosive muscular ability." In both age groups, researchers saw larger waists and less muscular ability correlate to "more TV viewing time.". The incremental differences measured in centimeter increments, showing a 0.2 or 0.3 centimeter shorter jump or larger waist size when comparing the 2nd grade and 4th grade measurements. That may not sound worrisome, but in a small child these findings were important and statistically significant. And recent studies clearly show a correlation between a larger waist measurement and risk of heart disease, back pain, and other possible health conditions. The researchers also point to the muscular weakness finding as a source of concern. Even if these kids don't plan on becoming star athletes, athletic performance is often a crucial component of self esteem, and muscular strength has a direct relationship with quality of life.
So what is the takeaway message? Maybe parents should begin to consider that for every 30 minutes of TV viewing time, a child needs to be asked to engage in an equal amount of fitness or playtime?
In another study, playing in 2 or more sports during the school year cut a teen's risk of being obese, and also of becoming overweight by 27%. In comparison, walking or biking to school helped teens avoid obesity, but did not impact the risk of becoming overweight. Gym class had no impact on a child's risk of becoming overweight or obese. The study noted that unless participation in one or two sports was uniquely competitive and challenging, and required many practice hours, the efforts were not enough to significantly impact or diminish excess weight risks.
What is the takeaway message? By the time you're in high school, sedentary hours, coupled with current food habits, will undermine the impact of any fitness effort that does not require significant and ongoing after-school sports commitments. That means exercise and training efforts that require many hours of practice and game time. Standard physical education, no longer even offered in many schools, and walking and biking, can only nudge weight a bit, especailly by the time kids reach high school age. One recommendation is for parents to use sports figures to inspire their kids to play sports. Current child and teen obesity trends require equal or more hours of calorie burning exercise to combat fast food habits, high calorie beverage consumption and a sedentary lifestyle.