WH&Y authors: Professor Leon Straker

Citation: McVeigh J, Smith A, Howie E, Straker L (2016) Trajectories of Television Watching from Childhood to Early Adulthood and Their Association with Body Composition and Mental Health Outcomes in Young Adults. PLoS ONE 11(4): e0152879. 



Introduction: Prior studies examining longitudinal patterns of television (TV) watching have tended to use analytical approaches which do not allow for heterogeneity in the variation of TV watching over time. In the current study, we used latent class analysis (LCA) to examine the relationships between television watching (from childhood to early adulthood) and body fat percentage (%) and mental health.

Methods: Data were collected from 2411 participants (50% female) from the Raine Study, a prospective birth cohort study in Australia. Participants were followed up over 15 years and answered questions about hours of TV watching per week at six time-points (5, 8, 10, 14, 17 and 20yrs). Trajectories of television watching were estimated using LCA and appropriate regression models used to test the association of television watching class with percentage body fat (measured by DXA) and mental health (DASS-21) at age 20. Physical activity was used as a covariate.

Results: Three distinct trajectories of TV watching were identified. Class 1 (47.4%) had consistently high (>14 hrs/wk) levels of TV watching, Class 2 (37.9%) was characterised by an increase in TV watching over adolescence and Class 3 (14.7%) had consistently lower (<14 hrs/wk) TV watching over 15 years. Sex was used as an active covariate in the latent class model and was significantly associated with class membership (p<0.001), with females comprising 45%, 47% and 59% of Class 1, 2 and 3 respectively. In females, membership in Class 2 or 3 was associated with lower body fat % at age 20, compared to Class 1 (p<0.001). For males, membership in Class 2 was associated with lower body fat % compared with males in Class 1 (p = 0.026). Membership of TV watching class and mental health were not related (p>0.05).

Conclusions: TV watching from childhood to young adulthood appears to be a relatively stable behavior for around two thirds of participants, but not everyone tracks consistently. This study identified a subset of participants with low levels of TV watching in childhood and also that this group, despite an increase in TV watching over adolescence, maintained a lower level of body fat in young adulthood

About The Authors


Leon Straker is a John Curtin Distinguished Professor of Physiotherapy, focussed on adolescent behav...