Children who devote more than three hours of their day to screen time are at a higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes, according to a new study.
Scientists from the United Kingdom analyzed information from almost 6,000 children ages nine to ten years old. They found children who spent more time in front of the screen were associated with a higher body fat percentage as well as developing insulin resistance.
The researchers wrote that reducing screen time could mean the difference between developing the disease. The study information is prevalent as the use of screens is becoming more frequent for children.
“Our findings suggest that reducing screen time may be beneficial in reducing type 2 diabetes risk factors, in both boys and girls and in different ethnic groups from an early age,” the authors wrote. “This is particularly relevant, given rising levels of type 2 diabetes, the early emergence of type 2 diabetes risk, and recent trends suggesting that screen time-related activities are increasing in childhood and may pattern screen-related behaviors in later life.”
From the almost 6,000 children who participated in the study, 4,884 provided a blood sample, answered questions about daily screen time use and had their body measurements taken. Only four percent of the study participants reported no screen time, while 18 percent reported more than three hours of screen time.
The research found that children who reported three or more hours of screen time had higher levels of body fat compared to those who reported an hour or less of screen time. The authors said children were asked about the amount of time they spent watching television and playing video or computer games, but that the survey information was reported between 2004 and 2007.
“Studies in current settings would also need to take account of the use of more recently introduced electronic devices, for example, electronic tablets and smartphones, also potentially related to sedentary behaviour, which are now more widely used by children,” the authors wrote.
Ultimately, the scientists said that there is no direct link or causation between type 2 diabetes development and the amount of daily screen time children have. But the study does hint at some kind of association.
“Intervention studies in children showing decreased body size associated with reduced screen time are supportive of a causal effect, although causal associations between screen viewing and early T2D risk factors remain to be established,” the study said.
The authors said that, in the past, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended limiting screen time for children to less than two hours, but the most recent AAP guidance did not set a time limit. Instead, the AAP suggests that parents place consistent time limits on hours per day of media use.
While it’s already known that increased screen time is associated with a higher body fat percentage and a higher risk for type 2 diabetes in adults, it’s possible that the same can be said for children. The study authors said the results were independent from socioeconomic status and other factors.
“This study demonstrated strong graded positive associations between screen time, adiposity and risk markers for type 2 diabetes, particularly insulin resistance, in children,” the authors wrote.