What’s the worst type of sitting for childhood obesity?

Sitting in front of a screen is more likely to contribute to childhood obesity than other sitting behaviours, an Australian study has found.

Researchers at the University of South Australia investigated the impact of different sitting behaviours — watching television, playing videogames, playing on a computer, sitting down to eat, or travelling in a car — and found that watching TV is more strongly associated with obesity in boys and girls than any other type of sitting.

Playing video games was also strongly associated with obesity in boys but not in girls.

The study assessed the sedentary behaviours of 234 Australian children aged 10–13 years who either were of a healthy weight (74 boys, 56 girls) or classified as obese (56 boys, 48 girls).

It found that, excluding sleep, children spent more than 50 per cent of their day sitting, with television dominating their time for 2.5 to 3 hours each day.

UniSA researcher Dr Margarita Tsiros said the study provided new insights about the impact of sedentary behaviours on children.

“It’s no surprise that the more inactive a child is, the greater their risk of being overweight,” she said.

“One of the interesting points of this study is that the results suggest that not all types of sitting are created equal when it comes to children’s weight … how long children spend sitting may be less important that what they do when they are sitting.

“For instance, some types of sitting are more strongly associated with body fat in children than others, and time spent watching TV seems to be the worst culprit.”

Childhood obesity is a global issue. Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2017–18 show that in Australia almost a quarter of children aged 5–17 years are considered overweight or obese.

Dr Tsiros said parents should encourage children to take breaks at least every 30 minutes and follow national activity guidelines that generally recommend not more than two hours of recreational sitting time a day.

She said the study also looked at physical activity and not surprisingly found that children who were more physically active had lower body fat.

“This is an area of research that’s receiving a lot of attention and there’s increasing recognition that we need to look beyond the total time that children are sedentary to see how that interacts with their physical activity,” Dr Tsiros said.

“Encouraging outdoor physical activity is really crucial not only for promoting healthy lifestyle but also for gross motor skill development and general wellbeing.

“The general take-home message is to really encourage parents to look at the activities that children are engaging in — it’s not just about the length of time they are sitting but the specifics of what they are doing and particularly for boys it’s important that they are taking breaks as well.”

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