Teens With Lots of Screen Time Have Higher Risk of Obesity

Posted 02/27/2017 | By HealthCorps


Research has already determined that kids who watch too much TV have a higher risk of obesity.  One of the more obvious reasons is that long periods of watching TV is linked to long periods of sedentary time.  Additionally, watching a lot of TV is also associated with significant food consumption (during viewing) and a preference for highly processed, caloric foods, thanks to the numerous food ads during prime time TV.  A new study suggests that obesity risk is also linked to heavy use of “smaller screens” including computers, gaming consoles, smart tablets, and smartphones.

The research that offers insights into TV viewing time and risk of obesity suggests that teens who watched a minimum of five hours of TV daily had a 73% greater chance of developing obesity, compared to teens with no TV time. A similar amount of small screen time resulted in a 43% increased chance of developing obesity.  The survey covered TV and small screen viewing habits, as well as sugary drink consumption.  

The report published in the Journal of Pediatrics looked at a national representation of data, collected by survey in 2013 and 2015, from 24,300 teens in grades nine to twelve.

Findings from the study included:

  • Nearly 17 of percent of the teens said they watched no TV on weekdays, while 7.8 percent said they watched five or more hours of TV daily.
  • Nearly one in five teens that responded to the survey spent at least five hours a day using smaller screens.
  • More than 25 percent of boys and about 20 percent of girls reported drinking at least one soda daily (or some other sweetened drink).
  • About two thirds of the boys and three quarters of the girls said they did not get daily exercise
  • Among respondents, 14 percent were already clinically obese.

The researchers who looked at the data adjusted for age, sex, race, and ethnicity and found that, though smaller screen time had a significant link to obesity, it was really TV viewing time that had the more substantial link to consumption of sugary drinks and risk of obesity.

Another finding was that more screen time overall was linked to fewer hours of sleep, drinking more sugary beverages and being sedentary for greater periods of time.  The researchers stopped short of suggesting a direct cause between TV or small screen time and obesity.  It could also be that already being obese is linked to more hours of screen time, inactivity and fatigue.  So the “direction of association” is not clear.

It does seem reasonable to assume that there is a connection between long periods of any screen time and risk of obesity, according to the lead researcher of the study.  The researchers recommend that parents work with their teens to decide “what needs to be accomplished in a day,” in order to be successful and productive.  The discussion should include how much sleep teens need, when and what they should be eating, how much time they need for homework, exercise and family activities.  Within that schedule, there should then be specific time allotments for various screen time activities.

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