Pre-teens who spend too much time on electronic devices are at greater risk of obesity, a new study has found.
The new study, publishing in the journal Pediatric Obesity. finds that children in the U.S. with greater screen time usage at ages 9-10 are more likely to gain weight one year later.
Researchers found that each additional hour spent on virtually all forms of screen time, including watching or streaming television, YouTube videos, video games, video chat, and texting was associated with a higher body mass index (BMI) one year later.
"Screen time is often sedentary and may replace time for physical activity. Children are exposed to more food advertisements and are prone to snacking and overeating while distracted in front of screens," said lead author, Jason Nagata, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco.
At the start of the study, which was conducted before the Covid-19 pandemic, 33.7 per cent of children were considered overweight or obese, and this increased to 35.5 per cent one year later. Throughout the study children were asked questions about their use of electronic devices, with those reporting the most usage the likeliest to gain weight.
Dr. Nagata said that the findings are especially relevant now because many children who would otherwise spend a healthy amount of time on computerised devices were forced online due to Covid-19 lockdowns.
"The study was conducted prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, but its findings are especially relevant for the pandemic," he explained. "With remote learning, the cancellation of youth sports and social isolation, children have been exposed to unprecedented levels of screen time."
Advising parents on how to promote healthy electronics use during and after the pandemic, he added: "Screen time can have important benefits such as education and socialization during the pandemic, but parents should try to mitigate risks from excessive screen time including increased sedentary time and decreased physical activity. Parents should regularly talk to their children about screen-time usage and develop a family media use plan."