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Childhood TV Viewing Habits Carry Over to Adulthood

A long-term British study revealed that there are correlations between childhood TV viewing time and adult TV viewing time…. 

The findings of a 32-year follow-up of the 1970 British cohort study suggested that childhood television (TV) viewing habits track into adulthood. Using a longitudinal data set, this study identified the corresponding effects of parental and childhood TV viewing time.

This longitudinal study consisted of 17,248 British participants that were all born in a single week of 1970. Data from surveys that were conducted when these participants were at the age of 10 and 42 years were used in the present analyses. When they were 10 years old, researchers were provided information from their mothers on their parents’ own occupation, their height and weight, and whether they never, sometimes, or often watched TV and played sports. At this age, a health visitor also objectively assessed the height and weight of these participants. Then, 32 years later, when participants were 42 years old, they provided information on their physical activity, their health status, and whether they spent 0, 0≤1, 1<3, 3<5, or ≥5 hours watching TV daily. Valid data were available at both time points for 6,188 participants. After all the data had been collected, the researchers used logistic regression models to investigate correlations between putative childhood and parental correlates and adult TV viewing time.

Based on the logistic regression models, participants who reported watching TV ‘often’ at baseline were revealed to be significantly more likely to watch >3 hours of TV daily at follow-up (OR 1.42, 95% CI 1.21 to 1.65). The same was true for those whose fathers were from a lower socio-occupational class with an intermediate or routine/manual occupational background (OR 1.55, 95% CI 1.14 to 2.11) as opposed to a managerial socio-occupational class (OR 2.05, 95% CI 1.47 to 2.87). There was an inverse relationship between the body mass index (BMI) of these participants at age 10 and high TV viewing time in their adulthood (per unit increase; OR 0.93, 95% CI 0.90 to 0.96); although, there was a positive relationship between the BMI of the fathers of these participants at age 10 and high TV viewing time in their adulthood (per unit increase; OR 1.04, 95% CI 1.02 to 1.06).

These participants’ childhood TV viewing habits, which tended to carry over into their adulthood, were directly associated with the health behaviors and social position of their parents, and such things can greatly impact the direction of future policy and practice. The researchers said that these findings suggest that sedentary behaviors later in life can be prevented by implicating early interventions, especially in the matter of socioeconomic inequalities.

Practice Pearls:
  • The participants of this study who watched TV often during their childhood were more likely to watch >3 hours of TV a day and have fair or poor health as adults.
  • These participants that watched >3 hours of TV daily in middle age tended to have had a father from a lower occupational class.
  • Researchers believe that these results imply that by implicating early interventions, especially in the matter of socioeconomic inequalities, sedentary behaviors can be prevented later in life.

Published online on Aug 21, 2014 in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.