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About Sickkids
About SickKids

July 4, 2011

Reduced TV time and computer use alone have little impact on childhood obesity

The number of overweight and obese children is rising, not just in Canada but around the world. Perhaps it’s not surprising that the amount of screen time, or time spent in front of the television or computer, has also increased significantly among children. In Canada, children and youth are getting an average of six hours of screen time per day on weekdays, and seven on weekends. There has been considerable research suggesting that a reduction in screen time will impact outcomes in childhood obesity, but does it?

Researchers from The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) performed a systemic review of randomized controlled trials and found that the interventions aimed solely at reducing screen time among children had no overall effect on the reduction of body mass index (BMI) in children. They did, however, observe a significant decrease in screen time among preschoolers. The review was published in the July 4 advance online edition of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

Researchers analyzed 13 randomized controlled trials that focused specifically on interventions to reduce screen time among children aged 0-18.

“Preventing childhood obesity is a complex problem that may not be solved by only one particular intervention in one setting,” says Dr. Catherine Birken, senior author of the study and Staff Paediatrician and Project Investigator at SickKids. “The principles for preventing and treating childhood obesity include healthy nutrition, increased physical activity and reduced sedentary behaviour like the time spent in front of the screen.”

Birken explains that interventions aimed at reducing screen time have been a focus of childhood obesity prevention and treatment for the past decade, but as the review showed decreasing screen time alone is not effective. The lack of an observed effect may be due to the short duration and follow-up of the interventions; the median length of the included trials was seven months.

“In order to have an impact, multiple integrated interventions may need to be adopted across all sectors; at home, at school, in the clinic, in the community and at the policy level,” says Birken.

There is a growing understanding that efforts to prevent childhood obesity must begin before children enter the school system. While this review demonstrates no significant decrease in screen time or BMI among children of most age groups, a decrease was observed among preschool-age children. Researchers recommend focusing future studies on key age groups, such as preschoolers, where behaviour change may be more sustainable.

Building healthy children is the focus of TARGet Kids!, a primary care research network for children in Toronto. With partners in primary care, TARGet Kids! aims to develop the evidence to promote healthy nutrition, activity, and good health in young children and families through the primary practice setting.

“Given the prevalence of obesity in childhood and the long-term complications associated with obesity over the life course testing and implementing effective interventions early in life, including those that focus on screen time, should be a priority for researchers, health-care practioners and policy makers,” Birken says.

The study was supported by the Paediatric Outcomes Research Team and SickKids Foundation.

About The Hospital for Sick Children

The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) is recognized as one of the world’s foremost paediatric health-care institutions and is Canada’s leading centre dedicated to advancing children’s health through the integration of patient care, research and education. Founded in 1875 and affiliated with the University of Toronto, SickKids is one of Canada’s most research-intensive hospitals and has generated discoveries that have helped children globally. Its mission is to provide the best in complex and specialized family-centred care; pioneer scientific and clinical advancements; share expertise; foster an academic environment that nurtures health-care professionals; and champion an accessible, comprehensive and sustainable child health system. SickKids is proud of its vision for Healthier Children. A Better World. For more information, please visit www.sickkids.ca.

About SickKids Research & Learning Tower
SickKids Research & Learning Tower will bring together researchers from different scientific disciplines and a variety of clinical perspectives, to accelerate discoveries, new knowledge and their application to child health — a different concept from traditional research building designs. TheTower will physically connect SickKids science, discovery and learning activities to its clinical operations. Designed by award-winning architects Diamond + Schmitt Inc. and HDR Inc. with a goal to achieve LEED® Gold Certification for sustainable design, the Tower will create an architectural landmark as the eastern gateway to Toronto’s Discovery District. SickKids Research & Learning Tower is funded by a grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and community support for the ongoing fundraising campaign. For more information, please visit www.buildsickkids.com.

For more information, please contact:

Suzanne Gold
The Hospital for Sick Children
416-813-7654, ext. 2059

Caitlin McNamee-Lamb
The Hospital for Sick Children
416-813-7654, ext. 1436