Kids Who Watch A Lot of TV Still Do So As Adults, Adding to Obesity Risk Interview with:

Dr. Chance York PhD School of Journalism and Mass Communication Kent State University

Dr. Chance York

Dr. Chance York PhD
School of Journalism and Mass Communication
Kent State University What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? 

Dr. York: A number of studies have examined the effects of heavy television viewing during childhood on childhood levels of Body Mass Index (BMI), but my study added a new element to this literature: it explores the long-term effects of TV viewing on adult-era BMI.

The major takeaway is that heavy television viewing during childhood results in an individual propensity to watch TV much later in life, and this propensity to watch television results in increased BMI. In other words, kids who watch a lot of television tend to remain heavy TV users as adults, and the fact that they’re heavy TV viewers as adults has a separate, unique effect on their adult BMI. What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. York: Clinicians should encourage parents to get their kids away from the TV screen (or screens, plural) as much as possible. We’ve known for a long time that heavy TV viewing is bad for kids’ health—it’s a sedentary behavior that promotes snacking on high-calorie junk foods. But my research also sheds light on a related outcome that is equally deleterious to health: if kids are allowed to be heavy TV viewers when they’re young, they’ll continue to be heavy viewers as adults, and that will only add to overweight and obesity.

In fact, my study showed that heavy television viewing during childhood is a behavior that continues up to 14 years later, and this behavior has long-term, compounding effects on BMI. So clinicians and the scholarly community knew that watching TV wasn’t particularly good for kids’ health. This study adds even more evidence to support that view. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

 Dr. York: We need more longitudinal studies that model the effect of television use as a long-term behavior. Many media behaviors are “habitual” in nature, simply meaning that once the media behavior is performed, it tends to keep being performed over time; we should therefore expect media effects on health to continue throughout the lifespan. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Dr. York: The data I used in this study came from the University of Michigan’s Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), which is a unique, intergenerational survey that has collected economic, health, and communication data on Americans and their children since 1968. I wanted to thank PSID administrators for all their efforts in collecting these data and for providing them to the research community.


York, C. Heavy Childhood Television Use Persists into Young Adulthood and is Associated with Increased BMI. Obesity. March 2016

Dr. Chance York (2016). Kids Who Watch A Lot of TV Still Do So As Adults, Adding to Obesity Risk

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