Television viewing as a cause of increasing obesity among children in the United States, 1986-1990

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1996 Apr;150(4):356-62. doi: 10.1001/archpedi.1996.02170290022003.


Background and methods: The prevalence of obesity among children and adolescents has increased, and television viewing has been suggested as a cause. We examined the relation between hours of television viewed and the prevalence of overweight in 1990, and the incidence and remission of overweight from 1986 to 1990 in a nationally representative cohort of 746 youths aged 10 to 15 years in 1990 whose mothers were 25 to 32 years old. Overweight was defined as a body mass index higher than the 85th percentile for age and gender.

Results: We observed a strong dose-response relationship between the prevalence of overweight in 1990 and hours of television viewed. The odds of being overweight were 4.6 (95% confidence interval, 2.2 to 9.6) times greater for youth watching more than 5 hours of television per day compared with those watching 0 to 2 hours. When adjustments were made for previous overweight (in 1986), baseline maternal overweight, socioeconomic status, household structure, ethnicity, and maternal and child aptitude test scores, results were similar (odds ratio, 5.3; 95% confidence interval, 2.3 to 12.1). We also found significant relations between television viewing and increased incidence and decreased remission of overweight during this 4-year period, adjusted for baseline covariates. The adjusted odds of incidence were 8.3 (95% confidence interval, 2.6 to 26.5) times greater for youth watching more than 5 hours of television per day compared with those watching for 0 to 2 hours. Estimates of attributable risk indicate that more than 60% of overweight incidence in this population can be linked to excess television viewing time.

Conclusion: Television viewing affects overweight among youth, and reductions in viewing time could help prevent this increasingly common chronic health condition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Body Mass Index
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Morbidity / trends
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / etiology*
  • Prevalence
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Television*
  • Time Factors
  • United States / epidemiology