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Tuesday, April 20, 1999 Published at 12:55 GMT 13:55 UK


Pedal-powered TV fights flab

Children watched far less TV when they had to cycle at the same time

An exercise bike hooked up to a television set means couch potatoes will no longer be able to simply slump down in front of their favourite show. Now, if they want to watch, they will have to pedal.

The "TVcycle" is the brainchild of US obesity researcher, David Allison at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in New York.

"I am not naive enough to think we're going to solve the world's obesity problems with TVs hooked to bicycles," he said.

[ image: David Allison thinks imaginative uses of technology can fight obesity]
David Allison thinks imaginative uses of technology can fight obesity
But he explained that early results showed the TVcycle helped youngsters shed fat and discouraged TV viewing. Most western countries have rapidly rising rates of obesity and research shows that obese children are more likely to become obese adults.

The US National Institutes of Health says about 55% of American adults are overweight or obese and more than 13% of children aged six to 17 are overweight.

Lack of exercise is a main cause and, for children, television is a major culprit, replacing more energetic play. A BBC News Online talking point showed 68% of people thought today's children were couch potatoes.

Professor Allison said formal exercise programmes do not help because it is hard for children to get to a gym. So scientists are hunting for home-based tricks to get kids moving.

No nagging, no diet

In the experiment, the TVcycles were wired to show a picture only when the pedals were moving. A computer also measured the hours of TV watched.

Six overweight TV-watchers, aged eight to 12, were given TVcycles for ten weeks and four were given exercise bikes and a normal TV.

Nobody nagged the youngsters to pedal or lose weight, Professor Allison said. "We just said, 'Here you go. For the TV to work, you have to pedal. See ya.'"

The four children who watched television sprawled on the sofa watched 20 hours a week, but only cycled for 8 minutes a week. In contrast, the six TVcycle kids watched an hour a week and therefore had to pedal for an hour a week.

However, the TVcycle children did not pedal when the family watched television together and there was some cheating, when parents lets kids watch a special show on a set not part of the test, Allison said.

Weight loss

Nonetheless, the pedaling kids finished the study with two per cent less total body fat than the other children.

"It's quite amazing they'd see any change" in such a short time and in kids who did not diet, said Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group that fights obesity.

Professor Allison has another, more radical idea, to harness everyday technology in fighting the flab - putting coin slots in lifts to encourage people to use the stairs.

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