Children who spend more time than average watching television are more likely to develop heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes later in life, a new Australian study has found.
A study by University of Sydney researchers found six-year-olds who spent the most time watching television had narrower arteries in the back of their eyes.
This increased their chances of developing heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes when they were older.
About 1,500 six to seven-year-old children from 34 primary schools in Sydney were examined during the study. On average, the children in the study spent 1.9 hours a day watching television and 36 minutes a day in organised physical activity.
Those with the highest levels of physical activity, just over an hour or more had significantly wider average retinal arteries than those who spent less than half an hour a day being physically active.
“We found that children with high level of physical activity had a more beneficial microvascular profile as compared to those with the lowest levels of physical activity,” said Dr Bamini Gopinath, lead author and senior research fellow at the University of Sydney’s Centre for Vision Research.
“This suggests unhealthy lifestyle factors may influence micro-circulation early in life and increase the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure later in life.”
Replacing one hour a day in front of the television with physical activity could help make a difference, researchers said.
“Free play should be promoted and schools should have a mandatory two hours a week in physical activity for children,” Sri Lankan-born Dr Gopinath said. “Parents need to get their children up and moving and off the couch.”