Objectives: We tested the associations of content types of children's television viewing with subsequent body mass index (BMI) to assess the plausibility of different causal pathways.
Methods: We used time-use diary data from the Panel Survey of Income Dynamics to measure television viewing categorized by format and educational and commercial content. Analyses were stratified by age because children younger than 7 years are less able to understand the persuasive intent of advertising. BMI z scores in 2002 were regressed on television viewing, sociodemographic variables, mother's BMI, and BMI in 1997 (for older children only).
Results: Among children aged 0 to 6 years in 1997, commercial viewing in 1997 was significantly associated with BMI z scores in 2002 in fully adjusted regressions. Among children older than 6 years, commercial viewing in 2002 was associated with 2002 BMI. These results were robust after adjustment for exercise and eating while watching television.
Conclusions: The evidence does not support the contention that television viewing contributes to obesity because it is a sedentary activity. Television advertising, rather than viewing per se, is associated with obesity.