Madrid: Researchers analysed five different lifestyle habits for their contribution to a higher risk of obesity in children, and found that television watching had the strongest association.
The scientists, including those from Barcelona Institute of Global Health (ISGlobal) in Spain, used data from 1,480 children enrolled in the birth cohort of the INMA Environment and Childhood Project — a Spanish research network that studies the role of pollutants during pregnancy and their effects on children.
They analysed five lifestyle habits — physical activity, sleep time, television time, plant-based food consumption, and ultra-processed food consumption.
The researchers also asked parents to complete various questionnaires on their children’s lifestyle habits at four years of age, and also measured the children’s body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, and blood pressure at four and seven years of age.
The findings of the study, published in the journal Pediatric Obesity, noted that children who were less active and spent more time in front of the television at four years of age were at greater risk of being obese, overweight, and with metabolic syndrome at seven years of age.
The researchers also measured the time spent by the children on other sedentary activities like reading, drawing and working on puzzles.
However, they said, these activities were not associated with obesity or being overweight.
“When children watch television, they see a huge number of advertisements for unhealthy food,” said ISGlobal’s Dora Romaguera, co-leader of the study.
“This may encourage them to consume these products,” Romaguera said.
According to the researchers, ultra-processed foods, such as pastries, sweet beverages and refined-grain products, are high in sugar, salt and saturated fat and low in nutritional value.
They said high intake of these products at four years of age was associated with a higher BMI at seven years of age.
Television viewing, the researchers said, discourages physical activity and interrupts sleep time.
According to the study, adequate sleep time in early childhood is essential for weight control later in childhood.
Based on previous studies, they said 45 per cent of children are not sleeping the recommended number of hours per night
Shorter sleep time is also associated with obesity, the researchers said.
“Identifying habits linked to overweight and obesity in the early stages of life can help us to define preventive strategies against other conditions, such as cardiovascular and metabolic diseases during adulthood,” said Rowaedh A. Bawaked, lead author of the study from the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute in Spain.
The researchers said good adult health depended on the establishment of healthy lifestyle habits during childhood such as limited television time, extracurricular physical activity, getting enough hours of sleep, eating lots of vegetables, and avoiding ultra-processed foods.