Turn it off

Barely a day goes by that obesity isn’t mentioned in the British media – indeed, news reports suggest we’re now the fattest nation in Europe and our children among the laziest.

One alleged culprit is TV, with a 2005 BMJ report finding that three-year-olds who watch more than eight hours TV per week are at increased risk of obesity. Interventions aimed at reducing TV watching in children have met with some success, now Amy Gorin and colleagues at the Weight Control and Diabetes Research Centre in America have piloted what they say is the first intervention targeting the whole family.

The typical TV viewing habits of six families were monitored over four days using commercially available devices connected between the families’ TVs and their power supplies. For eight weeks these same devices were then used to limit the families’ TV viewing to 75 per cent of their typical amount. To complement this, the families were also sent a pack full of advice on ways for the family to watch less TV and suggestions for alternative activities.

After eight weeks, the TV viewing restriction was removed, and the time the families spent watching TV was again recorded for four days and compared with their original habits. The families had originally watched an average of 7.45 hours per day, but at follow up, this was reduced to an average of 3.73 hours a day. All the families said they would recommend using the ‘TV Allowance’ devices.

The researchers said more work was needed to establish whether this improvement would be seen long-term, and whether the participants’ health had benefited from the intervention or if instead they had simply switched from watching TV to another sedentary activity.

Gorin, A., Raynor, H., Chula-Maguire, K. & Wing, R. (2006). Decreasing household television time: A pilot study of a combined behavioural and environmental intervention. Behavioural Interventions, 21, 273-280.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

Link to White Dot, the international campaign against TV.