London - Every extra hour of television that a toddler watches weekly takes a toll on their waist size and athletic ability by the time they turn ten, claim scientists.

Waistlines of ten-year-olds who had watched 18 hours a week at the age of four were 7.6mm bigger than those of children who had watched the average amount of 14.8 hours, the study found.

The distance children could jump was also reduced by a third of a centimetre for each extra hour of TV they had watched per week at the age of two.

The two-year-olds monitored in the study watched an average of 8.8 hours per week, rising to 14.8 hours for the four-year-olds.

Some 15 percent of the 1,314 children analysed were already watching over 18 hours of TV a week, the University of Montreal researchers found.

It is hoped that the study, published in the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity, will encourage authorities to target the factors behind childhood obesity.

Researcher Dr Linda Pagani said: “The bottom line is that watching too much television is not good.

“Across the [Western] world, there have been dramatic increases in unhealthy weight for both children and adults in recent decades.

“Our standard of living has also changed in favour of more easily prepared, calorie-dense foods and sedentary practices.

“Watching more television not only displaces other forms of educational and active leisurely pursuits but also places them at risk of learning inaccurate information about proper eating.

“These findings support clinical suspicions that more screen time contributes to the rise in excess weight... thus providing essential clues for effective approaches to its eradication.”

Her fellow researcher Dr Caroline Fitzpatrick said: “The pursuit of sports by children depends in part on their perceived athletic competence.

“Behavioural dispositions can become entrenched during childhood as it is a critical period for the development of habits and preferred activities.

“Accordingly, the ability to perform well during childhood may promote participation in sporting activities in adulthood.” - Daily Mail