Press Releases

2003 Releases

Adolescents Who Increase the Amount of TV They Watch Decrease the Amount of Fruits and Vegetables They Eat

For immediate release:  December 08, 2003

Boston, MA— Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, in the first study to assess the relationship between the amount of television children watch and the amount of fruits and vegetables they consume, found that for every additional hour of television viewing per day, fruit and vegetable consumption was reduced by one serving every six days when compared to children who did not watch television. The study appears in the December issue of the journal, Pediatrics.

Gathering data from Planet Health, a program developed at HSPH to help junior high school aged children in Massachusetts schools decrease television viewing time and increase consumption of fruits and vegetable and physical activity, the researchers tracked 548 sixth and seventh graders from public schools for a period of 19 months. The children were asked to fill out surveys to determine the time they spent per day watching television, movies or videos; time spent per day on physical activities and how much fruit and vegetables they consumed daily. Body Mass Index (BMI) was also measured at the start and conclusion of the study.

Over the course of the study, the average amount of TV viewing per day was three hours and total fruit and vegetable consumption among the participants decreased by one-third of a serving per day, going from just over 4.25 servings to 3.9 servings. The recommended number of servings per day, according to the USDA food pyramid, is five. BMI increased nearly nine percent, reported physical activity decreased an average of 10 minutes per day and television viewing time decreased by approximately14 minutes. A child who watched three hours of television per day (the average among study participants), at the start of the study, and increased his/her television viewing by one hour per day, had approximately 2.25 fewer servings per week of fruits and vegetables compared to children in the study who didn’t watch television.

"Children’s TV programming bombards kids with commercials, targeted to their demographic, primarily for sweetened foods and drinks. Commercials advocating for fruit and vegetable consumption are rare. The findings in this study help build a case for using television to disseminate messages about healthy eating and nutrition and the consequences of poor diet," said Steven Gortmaker, senior author of the study and professor of society, health and human development at the Harvard School of Public Health. Lead author Reneé Boynton-Jarrett, researcher in the Department of Society, Health and Human Development added, "The study findings suggest that there may be an association between excessive TV viewing and poor dietary choices among adolescents. The content of commercial advertisements broadcast during children’s television programming promote food consumption patterns that contradict national dietary recommendations. Parents, teachers, pediatricians and public health specialists can play a key role by reducing TV time among children and encouraging better dietary habits. On a national level, regulating the amount of commercial time allocated to the food industry, or using television to disseminate healthy nutritional recommendations may be beneficial."

The research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and from the National Institutes of Health Public Training Grant.

For further information, please contact:

Robin Herman
Office of Communications
Harvard School of Public Health
677 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
Phone: 617-432-4752
Email: rherman@hsph.harvard.edu