‘Couch potatoes’ plant lifelong TV viewing habits in children, claims research

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Parents who watch three hours of television a day could affect their children’s TV viewing habits for decades, a study claims today.

Researchers at University College London found middle-aged “coach potatoes” were likely to have had the habit planted in them as young as 10.

They warn parents that routinely switching off the TV and taking the family out for a walk or exercise can increase their child’s chances of growing up to be a fit and healthy adult.

They compared the TV viewing habits of more than 6,000 British people at age 10 and age 42.

Mark Hamer, one of the UCL researchers, will tell a conference today that parents from lower income failies were more likely to be physically active at work and could compensate for this by spending more time sitting down in their leisure hours.

“Their children may then model their mothers’ and fathers’ leisure activity patterns,” he said.

Researchers found 83 per cent of the 1,546 people who reported watching more than three hours of TV at 42 had also watched TV “often” at age 10.

The study also showed that 42-year-olds who watched TV for at least three hours a day were more likely to be in only “fair” or “poor” health and to report that they were either overweight or obese.

The sons and daughters of manual workers were twice as likely as managers’ children to watch more than three hours of TV a day at 42, even after their own educational qualifications had been taken into consideration.

Mr Harmer added: “It suggests that interventions to reduce passive TV viewing time should target children and their parents.

“That could be extremely beneficial as research has also shown that TV viewing is associated with other health-risk behaviours, such as the consumption of energy-dense foods and cigarette smoking.

“Prolonged TV viewing has also been linked to type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”