Information identified as archived is provided for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It is not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards and has not been altered or updated since it was archived. Please "contact us" to request a format other than those available.
Substantial increases in the prevalence of obesity over the past 25 years underscore the importance of identifying and understanding behaviour correlates of obesity. A recent study of adults based on data from the 2007 Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) found evidence that screen time (time spent viewing television and using computers) was positively associated with obesity, inactive leisure time and a poor diet.1 In that study, associations between screen time and obesity were independent of the effects of leisure-time physical activity and diet. Smaller-scale surveys, often based on specific sub-groups and occupations,2 have yielded similar results.
These findings highlight the importance of considering screen time as a distinct construct in the development of interventions to reduce obesity. An important first step is to gain a better understanding of the characteristics of people who report the most screen time.
Using data from the 2007 CCHS, this article profiles Canadian adults who, according to their self-reports, were frequent television viewers and leisure-time computer users. Frequent television viewing was defined as 15 or more hours per week, and frequent computer use as 11 or more hours per week. Trends in television viewing are examined with data from Statistics Canada's General Social Survey.3
In 2007, a substantial proportion of Canadian adults were frequent television viewers (Figure 1). Close to three in 10 (29%) reported that they averaged 15 or more hours per week (over 2 hours per day) watching television, and 19% reported 21 or more hours per week (an average of at least 3 hours per day).
Frequent leisure-time computer use was less common. Approximately 15% of adults averaged 11 or more hours per week. Only 6% reported 21 or more hours per week, and close to one-third (31%) reported no leisure-time computer use.
One adult in 20 (5%) was both a frequent television viewer and a frequent computer user. The correlation between time spent watching television and using the computer was not significant (correlation coefficient = 0.01).
Estimates from Statistics Canada's General Social Survey3 indicate small declines in time spent watching television since the mid-1980s: from an average of 2.3 hours per day in 1986 to 2.1 hours per day in 2005 (Figure 2). Men's average daily viewing fell from 2.6 to 2.3 hours, a somewhat greater decline than for women, among whom viewing time fell from 2.1 to 2.0 hours (data not shown).
The largest drop in television viewing time—more than half an hour per day—was among 20- to 24-year-olds (Figure 2). Declines were more modest among people aged 25 to 54 years. And among those aged 55 years or older, changes since the mid-1980s were not significant.
The downturn in television viewing parallelled the introduction and rapid proliferation of home computers. By 2006, 75% of Canadian households had a home computer, up from 40% in 1997. During the same period, home access to the Internet increased from 17% to 68% of households.4
Data from the 2007 CCHS suggest that among younger age groups computer use may be replacing television as the screen time activity of choice (Figure 3). Close to half (45%) of all the screen hours reported by 20- to 24-year-olds were spent on a computer rather than watching television. Even middle-aged adults (45 to 54 years) spent one-quarter of their screen time using a computer. Among seniors, television viewing remained, by far, the preferred screen time activity.
Overall, men devoted 29% of their total screen time to computers, compared with 26% among women (data not shown).
The likelihood of being a frequent television viewer rose steadily with age from 20% at ages 20 to 24 years to 52% at age 75 years or older (Table 1). Compared with those who were married, never-married individuals were somewhat more likely to be frequent television viewers.
Negative associations with socio-economic status were evident. Close to half (47%) of people with less than secondary graduation were frequent television viewers, compared with 24% of postsecondary graduates. As well, 39% of people in the lowest household income quintile were frequent viewers, compared with 22% of those in the highest income quintile.
Residents of highly populated urban areas (500,000 or more) were somewhat less likely to be frequent television viewers (26%) than were people in rural areas (31%). However, the figure was slightly higher (35%) among those in areas with populations of 30,000 to under 100,000. Only 19% of recent immigrants were frequent viewers, compared with 30% of the Canadian-born.
Among people of working age, employment status was strongly associated with television viewing. Only 21% of full-time workers were frequent viewers, compared with 37% of those who were not employed.
When examined in a multivariate model, these associations between socio-demographic characteristics and frequent television viewing generally persisted (Table 1).
While men and women were equally likely to be frequent television viewers, differences were evident for certain sub-populations (Appendix Table A). Notably, among people of working age who were not employed, women were less likely than men to be frequent television viewers: 34% versus 45%.
Men were more likely than women to report frequent leisure-time computer use (17% versus 12%) (Table 2). Frequent computer use fell with age from 30% among 20- to 24-year-olds to 6% among seniors aged 75 years or older. Frequent computer use was much more common among people who were never married (24%) than among those who were married (13%).
Only 7% of people with less than secondary graduation were frequent computer users, compared with 17% of postsecondary graduates. On the other hand, proportions were similar across all household income levels.
Residents of urban areas were more likely to be frequent computer users than were those in rural areas. The percentages ranged from 10% among rural residents to 17% among residents of urban areas with a population of 500,000 or more.
Recent immigrants were far more likely than those who were Canadian-born to be frequent computer users (28% versus 14%).
Among the working-age population, those who were not employed were appreciably more likely to be high leisure-time computer users (23%) than were full-time workers (14%).
When examined in a multivariate model, these associations between socio-demographic characteristics and frequent leisure-time computer use generally persisted.
Across the provinces, the proportion of adults who were frequent television viewers varied from the national level (29%). Frequent viewing was somewhat higher in New Brunswick (32%) and Quebec (31%) and somewhat lower in Alberta (26%) and British Columbia (27%) (Appendix Table B). As well, 44% of Nunavut residents were frequent television viewers.
Compared with the proportion for Canada (15%), high leisure-time computer use was slightly more common in Ontario (16%), British Columbia (18%) and Nunavut (20%,) and slightly less common in Newfoundland and Labrador (11%), Quebec (12%), Manitoba (13%) and Saskatchewan (12%) (Appendix Table C).
In 2007, 29% of Canadian adults were classified as frequent television viewers, and 15% as frequent leisure-time computer users. Differences in socio-demographic characteristics were apparent, often in opposite directions for the two screen-time activities. Younger ages and higher levels of education were negatively associated with frequent television viewing, but positively associated with frequent computer use. Recent immigrants were less likely than people born in Canada to be frequent television viewers, but more likely to be frequent computer users. Among the working-age population, those employed full-time were less likely to be frequent viewers of television or frequent leisure-time computer users than were people who were not employed.
- Date modified: