Press Releases

Press release: Couch potato kids become – and remain – obese adults

2 May 2006

Statistics confirm that children who watch more than two hours of television a day at the weekend risk becoming obese adults. And despite health warnings, the rate of exercise has not increased among adults who are overweight as the result of inactivity.

Statistics confirm that children who watch more than two hours of television a day at the weekend risk becoming obese adults. And despite health warnings, the rate of exercise has not increased among adults who are overweight as the result of inactivity.

Using data collected from over 10,000 people born in 1970 at various stages in their lives, researchers looked at the impact of watching television in childhood on body mass index in later life.

They found that the risk of adult obesity increased by 7 per cent for every hour of television watched at weekends at the age of five.

Dr Russell Viner, who carried out the research, says: "Helping to fight obesity by reducing inactivity in the population should begin in early childhood. Our research suggests that tackling television watching in preschoolers may help, particularly at the weekends when children are probably less supervised."

He adds: "This research is based on findings from 1975, when Britain had only three television channels, only one of which carried advertising. The situation is likely to be more worrying today, given that modern children tend to watch more television and more advertising than in 1975."

Older couch potatoes are also at risk: Dr Viner found that at age 16, four or more hours of inactivity each day was linked to increased body mass at age 30.

Another study that examined over 10,000 people born in 1958 found little change over an eight-year period in overall levels of physical activity, despite public health recommendations.

Researcher Professor Chris Power says: "In the context of current UK recommendations to carry out 30 minutes of moderate activity at least 5 days a week, it is worrying to see that the activity levels of the majority of people were below the recommended amount. This is important because physical activity is suspected to be important in the development of obesity."

At the age of 42, the most active people in this study had a lower average body mass index that the least active, by 0.83 kg/m2 in men and 1.03kg/m2 in women. 

The research is based on data from the 1958 and 1970 British birth cohort studies, which are managed by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at the Institute of Education.

Ends

For further information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Russell Viner, University College London, 020 7380 9445, r.viner@ich.ucl.ac.uk

Chris Power, University College London, 020 7905 2106, cpower@ich.ucl.ac.uk

Jessica Henniker-Major, Centre for Longitudinal Studies, 020 7612 6861, j.henniker-major@ioe.ac.uk

Jane Elliott, Centre for Longitudinal Studies, 020 7612 6395, j.elliott@ioe.ac.uk  

Notes for editors:

This press release is based on research findings in the CLS Briefing Paper, "Obesity, diet and exercise", published in May 2006. CLS Briefing Papers.

The Centre for Longitudinal Studies is an ESRC Resource Centre, based at the Institute of Education, University of London. CLS houses three of Britain’s birth cohort studies: the 1958 National Child Development Study; the 1970 British Cohort Study; and the Millennium Cohort Study. Each of the three studies involves multiple surveys of large numbers of individuals from birth and throughout their lives.

Dr Russell Viner is a consultant/honorary senior lecturer in adolescent medicine and endocrinology at University College London Hospitals and Great Ormond Street Hospital, London. Chris Power is professor of paediatric epidemiology at the Institute of Child Health. Jessica Henniker-Major is the marketing and communications manager at the Centre for Longitudinal Studies. Jane Elliott is the NCDS and BCS70 research director at the Centre for Longitudinal Studies.

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