More screen time, more obesity: An expert warns you about the risks

Published on: 4 March 2022, 21:21 pm IST

Increased exposure to screen time is leading people to the path of obesity and other health problems. Read on to find out more.

binge eating side effects
Binge watching will lead to binge eating, followed by obesity. So, watch out! Image courtesy: Shutterstock
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Obesity is one of the most challenging public health problems in both developed and developing countries. Increased screen time is one of the best-documented causes of obesity and obesity is one of the best-documented outcomes of increased screen time.

Screen time refers to time spent while viewing content on any technology platform with a screen.

Increased screen time leads to obesity, especially in children and adolescents. This happens through:

* Increased eating while viewing
* Exposure to high-calorie
* Low-nutrient food and beverage marketing that influences children’s preferences, purchase requests, consumption habits
* Reduced sleep duration

What is the relationship between screen time and obesity?

There is a strong dose-response relationship between the number of hours per day children viewed television and the prevalence of overweight. As much as 60 percent of the 4-year incidence of overweight was estimated to be attributable to excess television viewing. More television viewing during childhood predicts overweight issues and obesity in adulthood. Up to 17 percent of the overweight prevalence observed at 26 years of age was estimated to be attributable to viewing over hours of television per day on weekdays during childhood and adolescence.

screen time
Excess use of electronic items can cause you vision problems too! Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Effects of increased screen time on weight

Possible mechanisms explaining the effects of increased screen time on obesity include displacing physical activity, increasing energy intake from eating while viewing and the effects of advertising, and reducing sleep.

Eating while viewing is one important way that screen time increases energy intake. Studies have revealed that children consume a large proportion of their daily calories and meals while watching screen media.

It is estimated that up to one third of daily energy intake and half of children’s meals are consumed in front of a screen. Apart from the increased intake of high-energy foods and beverages that are consumed while viewing, screen time also extends the duration of eating, distracts from or obscuring feelings of fullness or satiety.

Food advertising is also an important link between increased screen time and excess energy consumption. Youth are now exposed to marketing in new media, including food company-sponsored websites, apps and games as well as in advertising on third-party children’s websites and marketing via mobile devices and social media.

Inadequate sleep is another likely mechanism linking increased screen time to excess energy consumption and obesity. Sleep deprivation has been associated with increased obesity and weight gain among children, most consistently among those between ages 3 and 7 years. Sleep deprivation causes changes in the appetite-regulating hormones (ghrelin and leptin) to increase hunger and decrease satiety, short sleep duration affects children’s choices to consume more calories and fewer nutritionally-dense foods, and shorter sleep duration leads to increased snacking and eating outside of normal mealtimes, including during the night.

It is very important to understand the concept of displacement, which suggests that when one form of activity (screen time in this context) is used in abundance, other activities get displaced.

Also Read: 3 things you’re probably doing that can make you obese

obesity due to screen time
Binge eating while binge watching can lead you to obesity. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

How to reduce screen time?

To successfully overcome this vicious cycle of increased screen time and obesity is to include more active behaviours, such as sports, playing outside and riding a bicycle in daily routine. Increasing children’s activity levels is a crucial way to help prevent children from becoming overweight. It is important that children get interested and involved in being active at an early age. These activities need to be fun, sustainable and appropriate for the child’s age and development.

Even non-physical activities, such as music lessons, art classes and reading have been found to be better than watching television/mobiles/laptop when it comes to reducing the chance that a child will become obese.

Dr Arti Pawaria Dr Arti Pawaria

Dr Arti Pawaria Consultant - Paediatric Hepatology, Gastroenterology Global Hospital, Parel, Mumbai

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