Rationing of ‘screen time’ occurs in many families to help keep kids away from the TV, tablet, phone and video console and encourage more active pursuits. There is a good reason for parents to be gatekeepers of screen access.

Global rates of overweight and obesity, and type 2 diabetes have risen, so promoting activity in place of sedentary screen viewing is one small but important step.

Where once it was the preserve of mostly adults, type 2 diabetes is occurring earlier in life, with children now developing the disease. There is no one cause of type 2 diabetes, but poor diet, physical inactivity and excess weight have a powerful influence.

Adults who spend an excessive amount of time in front of a television or computer screen are at greater risk for weight gain and type 2 diabetes. Could a similar risk be seen in children who engage in too much screen time as well?

Screen time in kids

A UK research team compared the cardiometabolic health and screen time use of nearly 4,500 children aged 9-10 years old.

Blood cholesterol, fasting blood sugar levels, the degree of insulin resistance, markers of inflammation, blood pressure and body fat were all collected. Questionnaires included information on physical activity and daily screen time viewing of televisions, computers, video games and other devices.

Just over 30 percent of children were in front of a screen for at least two hours each day, and for almost one in five kids, it was three hours or more. Boys were more likely to be avid screen viewers than girls.

Compared to children who spent little time in front of a screen, kids who were glued to a device for more than three hours each day were more likely to have excess body fat and show signs of insulin resistance.

The link with insulin resistance is a key finding as that sets up a person for developing type 2 diabetes. Even allowing for how much body fat a child had, their activity levels and even their socioeconomic environment, excessive screen usage was still associated with insulin resistance.

Too much screen time was also linked to higher levels of the hormone leptin. Leptin is made by fat cells and is involved in regulating appetite and insulin resistance. A high level of leptin together with insulin resistance and excess body fat is a sign that the body is not responding normally to appetite and food cues.

Implications

The findings of this new research do not prove that too much screen time causes insulin resistance in kids but it is a powerful behavioural marker that parents should take heed of in keeping screen time use by their children to a minimum.

Last Reviewed: 02/01/2020

© Norman Swan Medical Communications.



References

Nightingale CM et al. Screen time is associated with adiposity and insulin resistance in children. Archives of Disease in Childhood Epub online March 13, 2017. doi: 10.1136/archdischild-2016-312016.

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