22 October 2019

Children who watch over 90 minutes of television a day are more likely to eat sugar and suffer from tooth decay, according to the findings of a new study.

The research discovered that young people are a third more likely to eat sugary foods (33%) and significantly more likely to have decaying teeth (39%), if they watch over an hour-and-a-half of television each day.

More than one in two (53%) children watching television for more than 90 minutes a day have some form of tooth decay.  Youngsters who eat sugary foods while watching TV are also more than twice as likely to have decaying teeth than those who choose to avoid them.

Dr Nigel Carter OBE is the Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation, a charity that sees first-hand the damage that tooth decay is doing to young people.  Dr Carter believes there needs to be a change in the snacking culture around television.

Dr Carter says: “There is a clear relationship between the time children spend watching television and how much sugar they are consuming.  As a population, our children are having too much sugar too often and it is leading to unacceptable rates of tooth decay.  The results are fillings and tooth extractions – both of which are preventable.

“There is also a worry that subscription services, accessed through personal devices, are turning television into an individual activity which is less family orientated.  This type of viewing is often done in isolation and is a cause for concern when moderating a child’s snacking habits.  

“Limiting the amount of television children watch, or where they watch it, could be a sensible and easy measure to improve children’s oral health.  It would also have other health benefits to a child’s wellbeing.”

Last year, there were 59,314 tooth extractions in England.  Nine in ten of these were caused by tooth decay.

Further findings from the study raise concerns around the impact that advertising sugary foods and drinks has both parents and children.

Latest figures show that throughout the course of a year, television adverts for foods high in fat, salt or sugar are seen around 3.5bn times by British children.

The study shows that nearly three-in-four (72%) children ask their parents to buy food they see on television, and more than two-in-three (69%) parents go on to do so.

Researchers also found that four-in-five (80%) parents buy food they themselves have seen on television advertising, and their children are far more likely to have tooth decay.

“It is completely irresponsible to expose children to marketing campaigns that promote unhealthy foods and drinks,” adds Dr Carter.

“Legislation to prevent junk food television advertising needs to happen now, either until the 9pm watershed or as a complete ban.” 

Last week, Singapore became the first country to ban adverts for drinks with high sugar content.  Until this point, other countries including the UK, have been focusing on only restricting a child’s exposure to these advertisements.


  1. Duarte Antonio Danilo, Oliveira De Gomes Maria Arlete (2019) ‘The influence of television on the food habits of schoolchildren and its association with dental caries’.