DENVER -- A modest-looking little box that sits atop the family television set can be a powerful ally in preventing pediatric obesity.
"I think this is a fabulous device," Dr. Susan Z. Yanovski said at an international conference of the Academy for Eating Disorders.
She was referring to TV Allowance, a device that allows families to limit children's weekly television viewing.
In light of the well-documented linear relationship between hours of TV watched per week and the risk of obesity, both in kids and adults, TV Allowance can play a significant role in parental efforts to encourage children to reduce sedentary behavior to prevent obesity, said Dr. Yanovski, a family physician who is director of the obesity and, eating disorders program at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases in Bethesda, Md.
Here's how TV Allowance works: Parents allot their children a certain amount of TV viewing. "In our house it happens to be 4 hours a week per kid," Dr. Yanovski said. Then each child chooses a four-digit PIN. When they want to watch a show they enter their secret code.
"They decide when and what they're going to watch. And when their weekly time is up, the TV shuts off. It takes away the locus of control battles between parent and child," she said at the conference, sponsored by the University of New Mexico.
Television watching was first identified as a risk factor for obesity in the 1990 National Longitudinal Survey on Youth. Among kids who watched no more than 1 hour per day, the prevalence of overweight was 18%. With 5 or more hours per day, the prevalence of overweight nearly doubled. This linear relationship has since been demonstrated in many other studies in children.
In a separate presentation, Dr. C. Barr Taylor, professor of psychiatry and medicine at Stanford (Calif. …