Decreasing television (TV)-viewing time may improve child health and well-being. These viewing patterns are shaped during the preschool years. Because mothers play an important role in determining how much TV their preschool children watch, a better understanding is needed of the maternal factors that influence children's TV viewing.
To examine the relationship of depressive symptoms and obesity in low-income mothers with TV-viewing time in their preschool children.
Cross-sectional, self-administered survey of 295 low-income mothers of 3- and 4-year-old children (92% white) enrolled in the Vermont Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. Mothers reported children's usual weekday and weekend-day TV-viewing time. Maternal depressive symptoms were measured with the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D). Maternal body mass index was calculated from self-reported height and weight measurements (weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared).
Children watched a mean of 2.2 ±1.2 hours of TV per day. Those in the upper quartile of TV-viewing time (high TV viewers) watched 3 or more hours of TV per day. Of the mothers, 12% had both obesity (BMI ≥30) and depressive symptoms (CES-D score ≥16), 19% were obese only, and 18% had depressive symptoms only. Children were more likely to be high TV viewers if their mothers had clinically significant depressive symptoms (35% vs 23%; P = .03) or if their mothers were obese (35% vs 22%; P = .03). Forty-two percent of children were high TV viewers if the mother had both depressive symptoms and obesity, 30% if the mother had only depressive symptoms, 29% if the mother had only obesity, and 20% if the mother had neither depressive symptoms nor obesity (P = .06 overall; P for trend = .009 using the χ2 test).
Among low-income preschool children, those whose mothers had either depressive symptoms or obesity were more likely to watch 3 or more hours of TV a day. Strategies to reduce TV viewing in young children should consider the role that maternal obesity and depressive symptoms may play in how preschool children spend their time.