The average child aged 8-18 spends approximately 7.5 hours on entertainment media, 4.5 hours watching TV, and 1.5 hours on a computer each day. There is a direct link between increased screen time and pediatric obesity.
Screen time greater than 2 hours daily is associated with increased rates of obesity, and studies show that teens who spend 5 hours or more watching TV are five times more likely to become overweight. This association is due in part to increased sedentary behavior, but it is also associated with poor sleep—particularly within 4 hours of bedtime—and with mindless eating behaviors and intake of sugar-sweetened beverages. More than 2 hours of daily screen time is associated with decreased executive function, decreased inhibition, and increased impulsivity, inattention, cognitive changes associated with ADHD, binge eating, and loss of eating behavior control.
As healthcare professionals, we must be hyper-aware of this correlation and provide families with education and resources to limit screen time and promote healthy habits that will set children up for happy, healthy lives.
Exposure to light from screen devices can disrupt sleep and lead to poor quality of sleep, and children who sleep with their mobile devices are at increased risk for insomnia. A recently published study found that 50% of children experienced some level of sleep curtailment and concluded that chronic sleep deprivation from infancy to school age was directly associated with a higher overall rate of childhood obesity.
Poor sleep quality and obesity may both manifest altered brain functions that control sleep and hunger. The parts of the brain that regulate the circadian rhythm also regulate hunger and satiety. Other possible mechanisms for weight gain are sleep deprivation, making children more likely to consume more calorie-dense foods, snack, and eat at nighttime.
From physical problems like eye strain to psychological problems like ADHD-like behavior, a wide gamut of health issues are caused by excessive screen time. Neuropsychological changes in the mind lead to addictive behavior toward gadgets that is similar to substance abuse behavior. Growing evidence points to increased screen time in children as hampering the development of a healthy and strong mind. An immature, anxious, or depressed mind is more vulnerable to emotional eating, increasing the likelihood of weight issues.