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Excessive Screen Time Raises Diabetes Risk Among Children

Excessive Screen Time Raises Diabetes Risk Among Children

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  • Scientists find significant association between duration of screen time and risk of diabetes
  • 22% boys and 14% girls watch for longer than 3 hours every day
  • Increased screen time also associated with increased body fat and increased levels of hunger hormone called leptin

Technology has improved medical science and brought in many new devices and equipment which have made imaging and diagnosis easy. However, along with the positive strides in technology, the rampant use of iPads and tablets has led to health concerns, especially among children. A new study has found that screen time that lasts for 3 or 4 hours can alter several risk factors which could increase the risk for diabetes. The study is published in the journal the Archives of Disease in Childhood and cautions parents about allowing their children to watch television or play computer games for a prolonged period of time.

The scientists involved in the study analyzed adiposity, or body fat, along with insulin resistance, a condition which occurs when the cells of the body do not respond to insulin. There are many studies that have detailed the influence of excessive screen time with weight gain and diabetes among adults, especially among sedentary workers like software engineers who use the computer for long periods of time.


Excessive Screen Time Raises Diabetes Risk Among Children

Study on Children

There are very few studies that have been carried out on children, which was difficult to bring about a clear association between increased screen time and diabetes risk. Parents tend to give children iPads and tablets to keep them entertained while they carry out their daily chores. While many parents believe that this would keep them away from harm's way, the excessive time spent in front of these gadgets could actually be doing more harm than expected. Earlier studies focused on adults and it wasn't not clear if children might also be at risk, particularly as recent trends indicate that the amount of time they spend watching TV and using computers, gaming consoles, tablets and smartphones is on the rise.

The research team studied 4500 students from 200 primary schools in Birmingham and Leicester, aged 9 to 10 years, for the presence of any sign of cardiovascular disease or metabolic disease.

The factors that were studied included
  • Insulin resistance
  • Inflammatory factors
  • Blood pressure
  • Fats in the blood
  • Insulin resistance
  • Body fat

To find out the extent of screen time the children were exposed to, the research team asked the children how long their screen time was, which included time spent watching TV, computer and gaming consoles.

Data was obtained for 4495 children, out of which 2337 were girls and 2158 were boys. There were 5887 children who were part of the study that was carried out between 2004 and 2007. Information regarding physical activity was available for 2031 of the children.

The findings of the study were that among the children
  • 4% didn't have screen time any of their day
  • 37%, or one-third of the children spent less than an hour or so
  • 28% of the remaining children spent 1-2 hours on screen time
  • 13% spent 2-3 hours on screen time
  • 18%, one-fifth spent more than 3 hours daily on screen time

The findings of the study were further stratified based on gender and race of the students
  • Boys were more likely to spend longer number of hours on screen time than girls - 22% boys and 14% girls spent more than 3 hours every day
  • African-Caribbean children had longer screen time than children of other racial origin- 23% African-Caribbean kids, 16% European and 16% South African kids spent longer than 3 hours of screen time daily.

Screen time and Ponderal Index

The ponderal index is indicative of the weight, based on the height, fat mass and the thickness of the skin fold. The study found that there was an association between the amount of time spent on screen time and the ponderal index.

The associations that were identified include
  • Ponderal index was higher among children who spent more than 3 hours of screen time every day than in children who spent less than an hour.
  • Increased screen time was also associated with an increase in the levels of the hormone leptin, which is associated with increased appetite, insulin resistance and fasting glucose.
  • There was a significant association between the duration of screen time every day and the level of insulin resistance, ponderal index, thickness of the skin fold and fat mass, though the scientists factored for confounding factors like puberty stage, household income, family background and physical activity.
The scientists who undertook this study claim that the results are largely observational but they are of potential benefit to public health. There are a variety of devices that are available currently and their use is pervasive, with children from across race, geographical location, age, physical status and upbringing constantly associated with one or more of these.

The scientists state that research shows that lowering the number of hours spent in front of a screen would aid in lowering the risk for type 2 diabetes, in boys as well as in girls and across different ethnicities.

The study is highly relevant in our society where there is a growing trend of children using devices for prolonged periods of time and also due to a surge in metabolic diseases like diabetes. The accentuated risk for disease may affect these children during later stages of their life, resulting in poor health. It is therefore necessary to limit screen time among children from an early age.

Screen Time

Screen time is the time spent by children in front of the television and electronic gadgets like iPads and iPhones. Doctors strictly warn against providing screen time that lasts longer than one hour for children as it can increase anxiety, lower appetite and make it difficult to sleep at night. Apart from these concerns, the current study that identifies an increased risk for diabetes among children is another reminder about the harmful effects of prolonged screen time.

References :
  1. Screen time and children - (https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000355.htm)

Source: Medindia

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