IDEFICS Study: Television viewing is top of screen time for european children and increases risk of higher BMI and consumption of sugar drinks

Television viewing and other screen activities seem to have substantial effects on not only young children’s consumption of sugary drinks but also on increased BMI and obesity. This is the conclusion of a new study on 11,000 children in eight European countries now published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The study is part of the EU-funded research project IDEFICS (Identification and prevention of dietary and lifestyle-induced health effects in children and infants) investigating diet, lifestyle and social determinants of obesity in 2 to 9-year-olds . Parents responded to questions about their children’s TV and screen habits, and consumption of sweetened beverages. At the same time, the children’s height, weight, and waist were measured. The study was performed from 2007-2010 in Sweden, Cyprus, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, and Estonia.

The results show that children who watched TV for longer when the study started tended to have the following features when they were examined two years later: a higher Body Mass Index, a greater waist to height ratios and a larger consumption of sugary drinks. For each additional hour a child spent watching TV per day, there was a 26% increased chance of them falling into the group with the biggest increase in waist to height ratio, and a 22% greater chance of being in the group with the biggest increase in BMI. Similarly, each additional hour of daily TV watching created a 19% greater likelihood of increased consumption of sugary drinks. Television viewing seems to have stronger effect than other screen activities such as computer use or videogames. The findings also suggest that TV constitutes the majority of screen time for children, and so remains an important factor in obesity rates in Europe.  

The cohort of children built up during the IDEFICS study is being followed up in the FP7 EC funded I.Family Study, which is investigating the determinants of food choice, lifestyle and health, not only in European children and adolescents but also their parents between 2012 and 2017.


Young children’s screen activities, sweet drink consumption and anthropometry: Results from a prospective European study. S Olafsdottir, C Berg, G Eiben, A Lanfer, L Reisch, W Ahrens, Y Kourides, D Molnár, L A Moreno, A Siani, T Veidebaum, L Lissner and on behalf of the IDEFICS consortium; European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, (20 November 2013) doi:10.1038/ejcn.2013.234.