It wasn't easy recruiting the 90 households that participated in her weight gain prevention study, U of M professor Simone French says.
"The common barrier to households joining the study was when the husband found out that there would be a TV lock on the TVs in the household," says French. "Sometimes that just kind of broke the deal. They wouldn't be in the study because the male of the household wanted unlimited access, usually to sports."
French and her colleagues found enough households that were willing to try the TV lock, also called a television allowance device, eventually. They asked the participants to cut their television viewing in half. That meant for a family used to watching 50 hours of TV a week, researchers would program their TV allowance device to shut off their television after 25 hours.
The theory behind the TV limit is that it gives families more time for active pursuits. French hopes that parents and kids who watch less television will use that time for a family bike ride or a walk around the neighborhood.
Study participants Maggie Desenberg and John Weisser say their family has become more active since they limited their television viewing to 21 hours a week. They swim more and go to the park more often with their two sons.
His boys never did watch many television programs. But they played a lot of video games, he says.
"It could possibly start in the morning and go on for three hours and the TV could be on for a good portion of the day".
“It is kind of torture to have a Wii and know and you can't really play it a lot.”Eight-year old Paul Weisser
In the family living room a digital display on a TV allowance device shows 8-year-old Paul that seven hours are available on the TV. Those hours are precious to Paul - so much so that he has changed his weekend routine.
"I sometimes used to be into Saturday morning cartoons and I'd wake up at like seven and turn on the TV," says Paul. "But since the TV study started I could use up all the time if I do that, so I don't do it anymore."
Instead Paul saves his time for his Nintendo Wii player.
"It is kind of torture to have a Wii and know and you can't really play it a lot." His 11-year-old brother Ivan agrees.
"To get a Wii and then not be able to play it, only seven hours a week, is just extremely disappointing," he says.
Their father is surprised to hear so much grumbling from his boys.
"On the outside I see lots of development in the boys," says Weisser. "Apparently on the inside they don't see it as much."
Her sons have adjusted to their new TV limits more than they let on, says Maggie Desenberg. They've been cooperative and willing to do other things with their free time and as far as she is concerned, the experiment has been a success, she says.
"We get to keep the boxes," says Desenberg. "So we're going keep that for the children's TV so that we don't have to be the bad cop. You know we can sort of blame it on the box." That's music to Simone French's ears. Some families have been counting the days until her study concludes.
"Some of them were like 'I'm going watch 50 hours of TV when you take that off,'" says French. "And so that's not what we wanted to hear because sometimes when they join they're like 'I just need help. I watch too much TV and I just need help limiting it.' And by the end they're like, 'I can't wait till you get that box off the TV.'"
French's study will wrap up this fall and by next spring her data should be analyzed. She hopes it will show that her experiment helped families prevent weight gain. But the results will depend in part on what her households decide to do with their time once they regain full control of their televisions.