The association of television viewing and obesity in data collected during cycles II and III of the National Health Examination Survey was examined. Cycle II examined 6,965 children aged 6 to 11 years and cycle III examined 6,671 children aged 12 to 17 years. Included in the cycle III sample were 2,153 subjects previously studied during cycle II. These surveys, therefore, provided two cross-sectional samples and one prospective sample. In all three samples, significant associations of the time spent watching television and the prevalence of obesity were observed. In 12- to 17-year-old adolescents, the prevalence of obesity increased by 2% for each additional hour of television viewed. The associations persisted when controlled for prior obesity, region, season, population density, race, socioeconomic class, and a variety of other family variables. The consistency, temporal sequence, strength, and specificity of the associations suggest that television viewing may cause obesity in at least some children and adolescents. The potential effects of obesity on activity and the consumption of calorically dense foods are consistent with this hypothesis.