Health

Children 'influenced by parents' screen-viewing habits'

Parents and children watching TV Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The time fathers spend watching TV could be particularly influencing their daughters' screen time

Children are three times more likely to spend lots of time watching TV and playing on screens if their parents do the same, suggests a Bristol University study.

The link between fathers' and daughters' weekend screen time is particularly strong, it indicates.

Previous research suggests too much screen time can damage the health of adults and children.

The study looked at five- and six-year-olds from 1,000 Bristol families.

Parents were asked how much time they and their children spent watching TV and using a computer, a games console or a smartphone.

The results, published in the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity, showed that during the week 12% of the boys, 8% of the girls and 30% of the parents watched more than two hours of television each weekday.

In the families where parents watched more than two hours of TV on a weekday, the children were 3.4 times more likely to adopt the same habit if their father exceeded this threshold - and 3.7 times more likely if their mother watched more than two hours.

On a weekend day, screen-viewing time was much higher, with 45% of the boys, 43% of the girls, 53% of the mothers and 57% of the fathers spending more than two hours watching TV.

At the weekend, children were nearly five times more likely to watch more than two hours of TV if their mother or father did the same.

Daughters of the fathers who spent more than two hours watching TV were more than twice as likely as sons to exceed this level, the study found.

The Bristol researchers said further research was needed to find out why this was the case.

Parent time spent using computers was also linked to child computer use, and this link was also stronger between fathers and daughters than fathers and sons.

Screen health risk

The discovery that parents' viewing habits can influence their children's screen-viewing habits was important, the researchers said, because of the health risk associated with high levels of screen-viewing.

This activity has been associated with an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and all-cause mortality among adults and an increased risk of obesity in children.

Prof Russ Jago, lead study author, from the Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences at Bristol University, said: "We know that excessive screen-viewing is not good for children's health.

"What our data shows is that some young children spend too much time watching TV and using other screen-viewing devices with much more TV watched at the weekend than during the week.

"Children are much more likely to spend high amounts of time screen-viewing if their parents spend a lot of time screen-viewing."

He added that families should be helped to reduce the amount of time that children and parents spend screen-viewing.

Dr Sanjay Thakrar, from the British Heart Foundation, which funded the study, said spending too much time watching TV or playing computer games could have a real impact on heart health.

"The results of this study highlight that any guidance related to excessive screen viewing should involve both parents and children."

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