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How Much Kids Pay Attention to Media Is Associated With Obesity

4/8/2013 For Release: April 8, 2013

​​​​​​​The increasing length of time children and teens spend with screen media has been associated with the rise in obesity among young people. But according to a study in the May 2013 issue of Pediatrics, “Characteristics of Screen Media Use Associated With Higher BMI in Young Adolescents” (published online April 8), the amount of attention youth pay to TV plays a key role in the link between their media use and body mass index (BMI).The researchers looked at 91 teens aged 13 to 15, measuring their height and weight to calculate their BMI. The teens recorded their weekday and Saturday media use, including television, computers and video games on fixed as well as mobile screens. They also used a handheld computer to report what they were doing at random times over a week. When the computer signaled them, teens noted what they were paying attention to and which activity they were paying the most attention to—for example, sports/activities, homework, other people, or media. Participants reported watching TV more than using any other screen media, with an average of more than 3 hours per day. Regardless of the type of screen or media used, the amount of time spent was not associated with BMI. But paying attention to television was related to having a higher BMI. There was no association between BMI and attention to video games or computers. The authors note several possible explanations for this association, including the effects of TV ads for high calorie, nutritionally questionable foods, and eating while watching TV, which distracts from natural signals the body gives for when it is hungry or satisfied. This study used a new research method that takes an intensive, moment-by-moment look at how young people use electronic media in their daily lives, which has been developed to investigate links between media exposure and physical, mental, and social health issues among children and adolescents.

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The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 60,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit

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