Bedroom TVs and Youth Obesity

Dartmouth study suggests removing the TV from a child’s bedroom could help prevent excessive weight gain

More than one-third of U.S. children and teens are overweight or obese. Removing that TV from your child’s bedroom is a single concrete action that you can take to help reduce your child’s risk of excessive weight gain.

Kids commonly have a TV in their bedroom today—more than half of U.S. adolescents have one—many get theirs before they are 6 years old.

While many people have heard about connections between being a "couch potato" and weight gain, few know anything about the impact of bedroom-based channel surfing, especially among teens who characteristically seek extended sanctuary behind closed bedroom doors. New research crosses that forbidden threshold into the bedroom of a teenager. Dartmouth researchers found that children and adolescents 10 to 14 years old with a TV in their bedroom gained about one extra pound a year.

Diane Gilbert-Diamond
Diane Gilbert-Diamond, assistant professor of Community and Family Medicine at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and a member of the Norris Cotton Cancer Center.

"Because bedroom televisions are really common in the U.S. this obesity risk factor accounts for over 15 million pounds of excess weight gain per year among U.S. adolescents," said study first author Diane Gilbert-Diamond, ScD, assistant professor of Community and Family Medicine at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and a member of the Norris Cotton Cancer Center. "This study suggests that removing bedroom TVs is an important step in our nation's fight against child obesity."

Unlike other parenting strategies that require persistent effort and vigilance, parents can make a difference by simply keeping televisions out of their children's bedrooms.

"Get rid of the TV while children are still in elementary school," says James Sargent, MD, co-director Norris Cotton Cancer Control Research Program, a pediatrician who collaborated on the study. "You will all go through a couple of weeks of complaining and misery, and then everyone will forget that it was there in the first place."

Gilbert-Diamond says that as the media environment becomes more and more complex the next steps will be to explore how bedroom use of other media—computers, smartphones, tablets, and other devices—impact weight gain, and whether disrupted sleep patterns are a factor in the media-weight gain association.

"The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends that parents limit screen time to less than two hours a day. They also strongly recommend that bedrooms are ‘screen free zones,'" says Gilbert-Diamond. "Our study clearly shows the importance of removing televisions to reduce excess weight gain in children and we believe that future studies will show the importance of removing other screens as well."

The research used data for 6,522 children and adolescents aged 10-14 years from all 50 states. The adolescents were recruited by telephone and asked about their TV habits, their height and weight, as well as other relevant study measures. Follow-up surveys were conducted two and four years later. Bedroom television, present in 59 percent, was associated with a significantly higher change in body mass index, even when taking into account total TV viewing time and other factors potentially associated with children's weight gain such as socioeconomic status.

The national study, "Association of a Television in the Bedroom with Increased Adiposity Gain in a Nationally Representative Sample of Children and Adolescents," was published online by JAMA Pediatrics on March 3, 2014.

Resources to help:

Let's Move: Reduce Screen Time and Get Active

Screen Free Week

5-2-1-0 Healthy NH

Geisel and Norris Cotton Cancer Center researchers Zhigang Li, Anna Adachi-Mejia, Auden McClure, and James Sargent were coauthors on the study. The study was funded in part by: grant 5 R01 AA015591 from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism at the National Institutes of Health (NIH),grants 5 R01 CA077026 and 5P30 5 CA023108-34 from the National Cancer Institute at the NIH, grant 1R21HD076097 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the NIH, NIHGMS P20GM104416 from the NIH, P01ES022832 from the National Institute of Environmental Health at the NIH, and grant RD83544201 from the Environmental Protection Agency.