NEW YORK - Trying to help children lose weight by cutting back on the time they spend in front of a TV or video game doesn't have much of an impact, according to a Canadian study.
Interventions designed to reduce overall screen time, including individual and family counseling, automatic monitoring of screen time and classroom curricula, have all been largely unsuccessful, wrote Catherine Birken of the Hospital for Sick Children Research Institute in Toronto.
For the study, which appeared in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, Birken and her colleagues reviewed 13 large studies involving more than 3,000 children.
The methods the studies tested were unable to help the children lose weight or watch less TV, she said.
"Obesity is a complex problem that is probably not going to be solved by one particular intervention in one particular setting," she told Reuters Health.
"That doesn't mean it can't be solved."
Experts for decades have worried about the impact on young viewers of the violence and sexual content in some TV programs, movies and video games, but another issue is that children watch TV or playing video games instead of playing outside.
According to the report, one in four children in the United States watches an average of four hours of TV every day.
The study did find that some interventions succeeded with very young children, when preschool-aged children had their screen time cut by nearly four hours per week on average.
"It's certainly possible to teach parents to reduce screen time in young children," Birken said.
Other medical professionals said the results did not surprise them.
"Food is a very rewarding event to everyone. To children, so is screen time," said Robert Klesges at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, who did not work on the study.
"So it doesn't surprise me too much that interventions aimed at reducing two things children love struggle."
He noted that the interventions lasted from one to 24 months and were quite variable, which may explain why they were ineffective overall.
"I think very often, they're comparing apples and oranges. I think it's premature to conclude that interventions aimed at (weight) and screen time are ineffective," he added.
Parents can help by turning off the television during meals and "strongly encourage" children to take part in activities or structured sports that will have them exercising for hours.
But success, no matter what method is chosen, may not be easy, Birken said.
"It's very hard to change behavior," she added.