Poorer Families Have More Sedentary Children, Spanish Study Suggests

It is not strange to expect that families with better living conditions enjoy better health and a longer life expectancy. Now, a new study has also confirmed the relationship between a family's socioeconomic situation and certain sedentary behaviours, such as watching television and playing video games, during the first years of life.

"Adolescence is considered to be a critical period, since the first years of life are when many of the behaviour patterns that a person will have as an adult become entrenched," Juan Pablo Rey-López, lead author of the study and a researcher at the University of Zaragoza, said. "Adopting sedentary habits during this period of life can have important impacts on a person's educational development and health status."

The study, carried out in five Spanish cities (Granada, Madrid, Santander, Murcia and Zaragoza), analyses the link between a family's socioeconomic level and the time that teenagers devote to three sedentary activities -- watching television, playing videogames and studying, all outside school hours.

The conclusions of this study, published in the European Journal of Public Health, confirm that young people exhibit different sedentary behaviours depending on the socioeconomic situation of their family. In addition, the kind of work that their parents do has more impact on the amount of time they spend on these sedentary activities than their education does.

The pattern of these findings, which confirm the trends seen in other European countries, is that teenagers are significantly more sedentary in families where mothers do not work outside the home.

In the study, which uses data from the AVENA study, an evaluation of the nutritional and metabolic status of young Spaniards, the teenagers reported that they watch less television than those in other wealthy countries (only 12% watch more than three hours per day, compared with 17-21% of Austrian teenagers, 24.7% of British teens, 22-24% of Finnish teens and 25-32% of Hungarian teens who watch more than four hours of television per day).

The role of gender and age

As in previous studies, gender differences could be seen in the amount of time spent on sedentary behaviours. Girls spend more time studying, while boys tend to spend more time on electronic games. Girls from families where both parents have low employment rates are more likely to watch excessive amounts of television and study less than three hours per day.

Sociodemographic factors play more of a role in boys than girls. Low education and employment levels among parents are linked to a greater risk of watching too much television. As is the case with girls, younger boys are more likely to spend their time playing electronic games than older ones.

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