INMA: “Television consumption is the lifestyle habit most related to childhood obesity”


An INMA study analyzes the weight of five different life habits in the development of obesity during childhood: physical activity, sleep hours, television consumption, vegetable intake and consumption of ultraprocessed foods. Among all behaviors analyzed, television consumption is the one that shows a stronger relationship with the appearance of overweight and obesity. Published in the Pediatric Obesity magazine, the study is based on data from 1,480 children from Sabadell, Guipúzcoa and Valencia participating in the INMA project. When the children were four years old, the scientific team asked the mothers and fathers to provide details about their life habits through several questionnaires. In order to measure the impact that these habits have on their health, the body mass index (BMI), waist diameter and blood pressure of each of the participants were calculated when they were four years old and also later, at the age of seven. “Most of the studies conducted to date have focused on the impact that these lifestyle habits have separately, without taking into account the cumulative effects,” says Martine Vrijheid. “But it is well known that unhealthy behaviors tend to coexist and interrelate with each other. Therefore, in our research we have examined life habits as a whole, to develop interventions that address the determinants of obesity from a broader point of view”. According to the results of the study, those children who are less active at four years and are more attached to the television show a higher risk of being overweight, obese and suffer metabolic syndrome when they turn seven. Researchers also took into account the time spent on other sedentary activities, such as reading, painting or doing puzzles. However, these activities do not seem to influence the appearance of overweight or obesity. “When they watch television, children see a lot of advertisements for unhealthy food. This can lead to the consumption of these foods”, says Dora Romaguera, co-leader of the research. Ultraprocessed products, such as pastries, sugary drinks or refined cereals, are rich in sugars, salt and saturated fats, but their nutritional intake is very low. According to the results of the study, a high consumption of these foods at four years is related to a higher BMI at seven years. In addition, being in front of the screen “discourages them from doing physical activity and interrupts their sleep time,” adds Sílvia Fernández, a postdoctoral researcher and co-author of the study. As the researchers emphasize, adequate sleep time in early childhood is crucial for weight control later. “According to previous studies, 45% of children do not sleep the recommended hours per day,” says Fernández. “This is worrisome because it has been seen that lack of sleep in childhood tends to be related to obesity.” “Identifying those habits that promote overweight and obesity in the early stages of life can help us define preventive strategies that prevent the occurrence of other conditions, such as cardiovascular and metabolic diseases in adulthood,” says Rowaedh A. Bawaked, first author of the study. As the research concludes, it is crucial for adult health to follow healthy lifestyle during childhood: invest a few hours in front of the television, do extracurricular physical activity, sleep the hours needed, consume plenty of vegetables and discard the intake of ultraprocessed products.

Reference: Bawaked RA, Fernández-Barrés S, Navarrete-Muñoz EM, González-Palacios S, Guxens M, Irizar A, Lertxundi A, Sunyer J, Vioque J, Schröder H, Vrijheid M, Romaguera D. Impact of lifestyle behaviors in early childhood on obesity and cardiometabolic risk in children: Results from the Spanish INMA birth cohort study. Pediatr Obes. 2019 Dec 2:e12590. doi: 10.1111/ijpo.12590. [Epub ahead of print]