Research into the bad effects of watching TV found that letting toddlers watch telly may come back to bite parents when those tots are teens.

Researchers from the Université de Montréal’s School of Psychoeducation analysed a study of children who were followed since they were five months old.

When they reached two years of age, their parents reported on their daily television habits. At age 13, the youths themselves reported on their dietary habits and behaviour in school.

 “…When toddlers watch too much TV it encourages them to be sedentary, and if they learn to prefer effortless leisure activities…” – Isabelle Simonato

“Watching TV is mentally and physically sedentary behaviour because it does not require sustained effort. We hypothesised that when toddlers watch too much TV it encourages them to be sedentary, and if they learn to prefer effortless leisure activities at a very young age, they likely won’t think much of non-leisure ones, like school, when they’re older,” says researcher Isabelle Simonato.

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Toddler TV viewing linked to unhealthy eating as teens

The researchers found that every hourly increase in toddlers’ TV viewing forecasted bad eating habits down the road – an increase of eight percent at age 13 for every hourly increase at age two.

In questionnaires, those early-TV teens reported consuming more French fries, prepared meats and cold cuts, white bread, regular and diet soft drinks, fruit-flavoured drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, salty or sweet snacks and desserts.

Early TV viewing also translated into less eating of breakfast on school days (by 10 percent) and led to more overall screen time at age 13.

Related: The danger of screen time before bed

Toddler TV viewing linked to higher BMI as teens

Every hour increase of TV also predicted a higher body mass index (a 10 percent increase) and less effortful behaviour at school in the first year of secondary school, ultimately affecting performance and ambition.

How much TV should children watch?

For children between ages two and five, the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) reduced the amount of daily TV viewing from two hours a day to one hour a day.

Compared to children who viewed less than one hour a day at age two, those who viewed between one and four hours of TV a day later reported (at age 13) having less healthy dietary habits, skipping breakfast on weekdays, having a higher BMI, engaging in more intense screen time, and being less engaged as students.

“Rewarding distraction and low mental effort via entertainment will later influence a young person’s commitment to school and perseverance in their studies. So we believe the AAP guidelines of not more than one hour of TV viewing for young children is correct, to ensure healthy developmental trajectories in adolescence,” says research supervisor Professor Linda Pagani.

Source: University of Montreal via

Related: Are your kids addicted to screen time? 

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