Risk of developing metabolic syndrome at age 16

Mid-life crisis

I have a confession to make: I love watching television.

In my defense, I never watched television as a child. I was one of those snobby, inner-city kids who had more important things to do than watch TV.

These days, however, I can’t get enough of it. So it pains me to type these next few sentences. But I’m going to do it anyway.

According to a new and unprecedented study, a person’s TV viewing habits at the age of 16 predicts their risk of developing metabolic syndrome in middle age.

Just to refresh your memory, metabolic syndrome is defined as meeting several of a number of criteria. These include central obesity along with increases in triglycerides, blood pressure, and blood sugar, as well as lower levels of HDL, or “good” cholesterol.

This study followed a population based in Northern Sweden. Researchers collected questionnaires from the teen participants, in which they reported how much time they spent watching television and engaging in physical activity during their free time.

Results showed that roughly 29 percent of the participants had gone on to develop metabolic syndrome by the age of 43. And subjects who tuned in to several television shows a day as teens faced double the risk of their peers who watched one show per week, or less.

These kids had larger waistlines, lower HDL levels, and higher blood pressure by the time they reached middle age.

Not surprisingly, teens who reported minimal physical activity in their spare time–say, only a couple of times per month–were also at higher risk later in life than their peers who exercised daily.

Like avid TV watchers, sedentary teens became adults with fat waistlines. But they also had higher triglycerides in their later years.

The moral of this story couldn’t be more obvious. It’s time to step away from the television… and the sooner, the better.

Parents, don’t let your babies grow up to be couch potatoes. Because this particular extracurricular activity comes with consequences.

Sources: Metabolic Syndrome in 40s Linked to TV, Exercise at Age 16. Medscape. Jan 25, 2013. “Television Viewing and Low Leisure-Time Physical Activity in Adolescence Independently Predict the Metabolic Syndrome in Mid-Adulthood.” Diabetes Care. 2013 Jan 22.