Objective: Several environmental factors influence adolescents' food habits and television (TV) viewing is thought to be one of these factors. The purpose of the present study was to describe sociodemographic differences in TV viewing and to examine associations of TV viewing with the consumption of sweets, soft drinks, fruit and vegetables in different countries.
Methods: Data were collected from 162,305 young people completing the 2001/02 Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children survey, a World Health Organization cross-national study on health and health behaviours among 11-, 13- and 15-year-old school pupils. Analyses of variance were used to examine sociodemographic differences in TV viewing and logistic regression analyses to examine associations between TV viewing and food habits.
Results: Large differences were found between countries in reported daily TV viewing time, from an average of 2.0 h in Switzerland to 3.7 h in Ukraine. The results indicate that those most likely to watch TV are boys, 13-year-olds and pupils of lower socio-economic status. Those who watched more TV were more likely to consume sweets and soft drinks on a daily basis and less likely to consume fruit and vegetables daily, although the latter associations were not so apparent among Central and Eastern European countries.
Conclusions: Given the high TV viewing rates among adolescents and the association with less healthy food options, many young people are at increased risk of overweight or obesity. Interventions to modify TV viewing behaviour are needed. The findings underscore the importance of tackling socio-economic differences.