Another Reason to Turn Off the TV

Study links high HbA1C levels to kids constant viewing.

Melissa Conrad StopplerBy Melissa Conrad Stoppler, M.D.


Editor's Note: While this columnist is no longer writing for and we have ceased to update the information contained herein, there is much to be read here that is still applicable to the lives of people with diabetes. If you wish to act on anything you learn here, be sure to consult your doctor first. Please enjoy the column!

June 2007 —A study published in the June 2007 issue of Diabetes Care gives parents yet another reason to turn off the TV at home. Doctors from the University of Oslo in Norway and their colleagues from the Norwegian Study Group for Childhood Diabetes reported a continuous increase in HbA1C levels for every hour spent watching television in children and adolescents with type 1 diabetes. The team made this observation in a study of the habits of over 500 children and teens with type 1 diabetes. Even after controlling for factors such as insulin dose, age, and BMI, the association between TV watching and elevated HbA1C levels remained.

The results, while interesting, aren't that surprising when you consider that people who spend more time viewing TV are less likely to spend time exercising and are probably more likely as well to be indulging in not-so-healthy snacks while viewing. It's the whole sedentary-lifestyle package. Although there have been literally thousands of studies of TV viewing and its effects on health, this particular study is interesting because it examines TV viewing in a group of young people at a high risk for cardiovascular disease and its associated complications, those with type 1 diabetes. I'm not aware of any study of this type having been published before.

What does this study mean for us as parents? Directly, of course, the study implies that kids with type 1 diabetes should be encouraged to pursue other activities (preferably those involving physical exercise) than TV viewing. But my kids do not have diabetes. Still, like everyone, they're at risk for the development of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease if they practice a sedentary lifestyle. Marathon TV viewing has been associated with other health risks in children as well, ranging from impaired cognitive development in younger children to sleeping disorders.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children who watch too much television are more likely to be overweight than those who view less TV. I was surprised to learn that the average American child spends four hours per day watching TV. Although studies have shown that quality educational programming can indeed help kids learn, too much TV should be avoided. The AAP does not recommend television viewing at all for children younger than two years of age, and for older children, the AAP recommends no more than one to two hours per day of "quality screen time".

In the interests of full disclosure, I'll admit that I enjoy some TV shows myself, and even as a physician-mom, I do allow the kids to watch some TV, with limits. But I do try to keep it to a minimum, and I don't allow the kids free rein with the remote. Learning that excessive TV time was related to poor diabetes control really underscored the issue for me personally and strengthened my resolve to keep TV viewing to a minimum at home. Since old habits die hard, I keep reminding myself that it's up to me to help my kids establish good health habits now that they're likely (hopefully) to keep for life.

Read more of Melissa's columns here.


dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.

Last Modified Date: July 15, 2013

All content on is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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