This study investigates how characteristics of young adolescents’ screen media use are associated with their BMI. By examining relationships between BMI and both time spent using each of 3 screen media and level of attention allocated to use, we sought to contribute to the understanding of mechanisms linking media use and obesity.
We measured heights and weights of 91 13- to 15-year-olds and calculated their BMIs. Over 1 week, participants completed a weekday and a Saturday 24-hour time-use diary in which they reported the amount of time they spent using TV, computers, and video games. Participants carried handheld computers and responded to 4 to 7 random signals per day by completing onscreen questionnaires reporting activities to which they were paying primary, secondary, and tertiary attention.
Higher proportions of primary attention to TV were positively associated with higher BMI. The difference between 25th and 75th percentiles of attention to TV corresponded to an estimated +2.4 BMI points. Time spent watching television was unrelated to BMI. Neither duration of use nor extent of attention paid to video games or computers was associated with BMI.
These findings support the notion that attention to TV is a key element of the increased obesity risk associated with TV viewing. Mechanisms may include the influence of TV commercials on preferences for energy-dense, nutritionally questionable foods and/or eating while distracted by TV. Interventions that interrupt these processes may be effective in decreasing obesity among screen media users.