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A major public health concern – too much screen time is making children overweight

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Posted August 27, 2019

We already know that screen time for children should be limited. Watching too much TV impedes their creative abilities and imagination and sitting for extensive periods of time with smartphones or tablets in their hands just make them lazy. But there is another negative – scientists studied more than 10,000 children from across Finland and found that abund­ant screen time can be linked with being over­weight.

Spending too much time in front of a screen makes children lazy and fat. Image credit: Julian Tysoe via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

Children in the study were between 9 and 12 years of age. Scientists measured their height, weight and waist circumference. Participants had to report their own time spent watching TV or using computers, phones and tablets. Scientists looked for variations in gender, ethnicity, age and other factors, but found none. In short, abundant screen time can be linked to children being overweight and their waist circumferences large. Although the causality could be easily predicted, scientists say that so far we don’t really know what causes what.

It could be that overweight children stay at home more and use devices more. However, it could also be that addicting screens make children lazy and unwilling to exercise and play physical games. On the other hand, watching a lot of television was also associated with overweight and abdominal obesity in children who exercised the most, but there is a caveat to that. Elina Engberg, one of the authors of the study, said: “The study did not measure the intensity of exercise; the participants were only asked about the amount of time they spent exercising in their free time. Further research on the combined effect of screen time, physical activity and diet on children’s weight is needed.

Although this seems obvious, this is the first study to link screen time and obesity. Of course, more work needs to be done to determine those causal relations and how exercise could help. Childhood obesity is a huge problem. The number of overweight children under the age of five, is estimated to be well over 40 million. Overweight and obese children are more likely to have diabetes, behavioural problems, mental health issues, impaired growth and a number of other major health problems. Most importantly, being overweight as a child could have a severe impact on one’s life expectancy.

The less screen time, the better for small children. They need to exercise their bodies and minds and staring at one spot for extended periods of time is just not good for them. Parents should also keep a close eye on their children’s weight and encourage a healthy diet and exercise. And remember – you should lead by example.

 

Source: University of Helsinki

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