Improve Children’s Mental Health – Turn Off the TV

Obesity is a global epidemic, in adults and children. The increase in childhood obesity has been linked to behavioral and environmental factors: decreased physical activity and increased television viewing. Now it is clear that these activities are detrimental not only to physical health, but also psychological health. A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics suggests that television viewing and physical inactivity are determinants of psychological distress in children.

The investigators of the study conducted a cross-sectional survey of nearly 1500 children aged 4 to 12 years. They evaluated the association between psychological distress, time spent on television viewing and other screen entertainment activities, and levels of physical activity in the study population. Approximately 4% of the children showed an abnormally high level of psychological distress, as assessed by the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. On average, children spent 2.4 hours daily watching television, but one-quarter of the children reported at least 3 hours of television and screen entertainment each day. Both television and screen entertainment and physical inactivity were independently correlated with high levels of psychological distress, after adjustment for other factors including age, gender, single-parent status, medical conditions, and dietary indicators.

In this study, a low level of television and screen entertainment was considered to be less than 1.6 hours daily, and a high level was considered greater than 2.7 hours daily. Similarly, a low level of physical activity was considered less than 6 sessions of physical activity lasting at least 15 minutes weekly; a high level of physical activity was considered to be more than 10 such sessions. Children with high levels of television and screen entertainment were 24% more likely to have high levels of psychological distress. (The children with the highest levels of television viewing also reported the lowest levels of fruit intake and the highest levels of sugar intake; children with high levels of television viewing also reported the lowest levels of physical inactivity.) Children that had high levels of television and screen entertainment, as well as low levels of physical activity, were 46% more likely to experience psychological distress, indicating that these behaviors are additive determinants of psychological distress.

In a similar cross-sectional analysis of American children aged 4 to 11 years, 37.3% of the study population reported less than 6 sessions of active play each week, 65% reported more than 2 hours of screen time, including television, videos, computers, and computer games, each day. More than one-quarter of the children reported both these behaviors. These behaviors are not consistent with the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations for healthy pediatric development, which includes less than 2 hours daily of screen time and at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily.

But, do these poor lifestyle choices –- television viewing and inactivity -– cause psychological distress or are they a result of it? Possibly, the children with increased levels of distress are showing early signs of depression or other mental health disorders such as fatigue or reduced interest in play or other enjoyable activities. In either case, physical activity enhances the physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development of children; and physical activity levels in children are a predictor of mental health as adults. Encouraging physical activity in children will contribute to healthy psychosocial development, as well as lower the risk for obesity, along with its myriad of related conditions. The simple act of turning off the television can inspire the growth of healthy, well-adjusted children.


Anderson, S., Economos, C., & Must, A. (2008). Active play and screen time in US children aged 4 to 11 years in relation to sociodemographic and weight status characteristics: a nationally representative cross-sectional analysis BMC Public Health, 8 (1) DOI: 10.1186/1471-2458-8-366

Hamer, M., Stamatakis, E., & Mishra, G. (2009). Psychological Distress, Television Viewing, and Physical Activity in Children Aged 4 to 12 Years PEDIATRICS, 123 (5), 1263-1268 DOI: 10.1542/peds.2008-1523

Marshall, S., Biddle, S., Gorely, T., Cameron, N., & Murdey, I. (2004). Relationships between media use, body fatness and physical activity in children and youth: a meta-analysis International Journal of Obesity, 28 (10), 1238-1246 DOI: 10.1038/sj.ijo.0802706

Viner, R., Haines, M., Taylor, S., Head, J., Booy, R., & Stansfeld, S. (2006). Body mass, weight control behaviours, weight perception and emotional well being in a multiethnic sample of early adolescents International Journal of Obesity, 30 (10), 1514-1521 DOI: 10.1038/sj.ijo.0803352

  • mulakha charles

    am charles from uganda and i have really liked the information given in your study. let me hope and pray that the information will spread to other people.

  • I really appreciate this article, and its so good for us to be away from the tv as we can, it waste our times and more than that kids mental health. i hope that every one read this article put it in reality as soon as he/she can. That’s will be better. There is a lot of things we can do in this time we spend infront of tv. My Best wishes To all.

  • josephine Tusingwire

    Thanks for the article. Most people are having problems because of being addicted to TV especially because of the enticing soaps being aired.The earlier we control this trend of events,the better.And for our children,PRAYERS will save us because on their side,its worse since it involves the moral aspect.
    Lets wake up

  • Neither I nor my parents were into sports and fitness; however, in the days before 24 hour TV with hundreds of channels, PCs, and video games, I was expected to play outside every afternoon after school. It actually was fun. We managed to keep ourselves entertained with only 7 channels to choose from, and only that many because we were in a major metropolitan area. When we came inside, we actually read books.

    Thanks for your contribution to Take Charge of your Health Care Carnival.

  • Dynamic

    yes i am agree with your blog for increase childern mental health and i will use this blog in future thanks

  • dr.p

    Unfortunately this really applies to computer time too! As we sit her glued to one after another wonderful article reading and writing, but without true social engagement. Between computer work, especially email and then just as much regular “snail mail” as before computing, and then add on instant text messaging, i am so concerned for our youth. It’s like a big vacuum; you just sucked in and swallowed up without realizing what bad health habits you have developed.

  • fahmi

    I am pleased to see with your blog

  • Pingback: 2Health: How to take care of yourself. » Blog Archive » Take Charge of Your Health Care Carnival – September 15, 2009()

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD, is a practicing clinical pharmacist and medical writer/editor with experience in researching and preparing scientific publications, developing public relations materials, creating educational resources and presentations, and editing technical manuscripts. She is the owner of Excalibur Scientific, LLC.

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