TV in bedrooms may boost kids' risk of fat, disease

Brother's Watching TV
Allowing a TV in a child's bedroom may raise the risk of extra fat and the potential for heart disease and diabetes, researchers say. Chris Stein / Today

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By JoNel Aleccia

Kids who have TVs in their bedrooms are twice as likely to be fat and nearly three times as likely to be at risk for heart disease and diabetes as those who don’t, according to a new study that renews concerns about health and screen time.

Specifically, youngsters ages 5 to 18 who had TVs in their rooms were up to 2.5 times more likely than others to have bigger waists and more fat mass. Those who watched TV more than five hours a day were at twice the risk for fat around their internal organs, a dangerous precursor for disease.

“It’s really troubling to see these kids with fat around their heart and liver,” said Amanda Staiano, a scientist with the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La.

Staiano and her colleagues knew that previous studies had shown a link among bedroom TVs, longer TV viewing and being overweight or obese, which affects two-thirds of U.S. youth. But in a country where 70 percent of kids have TVs in their rooms, according to a 2010 study, Staiano said they wanted to understand exactly where the kids were adding fat, and whether they were at risk for conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.

“We wanted to see kind of a more precise relationship between TV and health,” said Stainao, who studied 369 children and teens in Louisiana. Her findings are reported in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

They took the kids’ height, weight and waist measurements, logged their blood pressure, analyzed their blood and examined the fat deposits in their bodies using special scanners, among other exams.

Nearly 66 percent of the young people in the study had TVs in their rooms and about a third watched at least five hours of TV a day. There wasn’t a distinction by age, so even the youngest kids -- 5-year-olds -- had their own TVs, Staiano said.

Those with bedroom TVs had the higher odds for being in the top tiers of kids with extra belly fat, bigger waists, greater risk of heart disease and diabetes and elevated triglycerides, or fat in their bloodstream.

While Stainano’s study couldn’t say whether bedroom TV and long hours in front of the screen actually causes the extra fat and disease risk, it renews the debate about whether TVs should be allowed in kids’ rooms at all.

The American Academy of Pediatrics frowns on the practice, saying children’s TV viewing should be limited to less than two hours a day, ideally in a central location with parents watching, too.

“There’s not much good to be gained from having the TV in the child’s bedroom,” said Dr. Donald Shifrin, a Bellevue, Wash., pediatrician and former member of the AAP’s council on communications and media. He said the new study is one more piece of research that shows the potential dangers of excessive use of media by kids.

While the AAP doesn’t intend to be the “nation’s nanny,” Shifrin said, parents should realize that unfettered access to television -- not to mention other screens -- “is not essentially benign.”

Still, some parents defend their kids’ right to watch TV, even in their rooms. Lori Garcia, a blogger for, was only slightly defensive her in August 2011 piece titled: “My Toddler has a TV in his Room and I’m Not Sorry.”

“I don’t see anything wrong with a TV in my toddler’s room so long as it’s utilized responsibly,” she wrote using her handle, "Mommyfriend."

“As with all things, moderation and parental guidance are key.”

The TV comes in handy at 5:30 on Saturday mornings, for instance, when “BooBoo,” her youngest, is awake and his mother is definitely not.

“TV keeps us both a little more sane and with a toddler, I’ll take my sanity wherever I can find it,” Garcia said.

JoNel Aleccia, health writer/editor 425.705.1839