3-plus hours daily screen time linked to diabetes risk factors for kids

March 13, 2017, British Medical Journal
Credit: Paul Brennan/public domain

Daily screen time of three or more hours is linked to several risk factors associated with the development of diabetes in children, finds research published online in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

These include adiposity, which describes total body fat, and, crucially, , which occurs when cells fail to respond to insulin, the hormone produced by the pancreas to control levels of blood glucose.

Previous research suggests that spending a lot of time glued to a screen is linked to a heightened risk of weight gain and type 2 diabetes among adults.

But it is not clear if children might also be at risk, particularly as recent trends indicate that the amount of time they spend watching TV and using computers, , tablets and smartphones is on the rise.

The researchers therefore assessed a sample of nearly 4500 9-10 year old pupils from 200 primary schools in London, Birmingham, and Leicester for a series of metabolic and cardiovascular .

These included blood fats, insulin resistance, fasting levels, inflammatory chemicals, blood pressure and body fat. The children were also asked about their daily screen time to include TV, and use of computers and games consoles.

Complete information was obtained for 4495 (2337 girls and 2158 boys) out of the 5887 who took part in the study between 2004 and 2007; additional data on was also available for 2031 of them.

Some 4% of the children said that screen time didn't take up any of their day, while just over a third (37%) said they spent an hour or less on it.

Of the remainder, 28% said they clocked up 1-2 hours; 13% said their daily tally was 2-3 hours; and around one in five (18%) said they spent more than 3 hours on it every day.

Boys (22%) were more likely than girls (14%) to say they spent 3 or more hours on screen time, as were African-Caribbean (23%) kids compared with their white European (16%) or South Asian peers (16%).

Trends emerged between screen time and ponderal index—an indicator of weight in relation to height, and skinfolds thickness and fat mass—indicators of total body fat.

These levels were all higher in children reporting 3+ hours of daily screen time than in those who said they spent an hour or less on it.

And there was a strong trend between a daily quota of 3 or more hours of screen time and levels of leptin, the hormone that controls appetite; fasting glucose; and insulin resistance.

The associations between screen time and insulin levels, insulin resistance, ponderal index, skinfolds thickness and fat mass remained significant even after taking account of potentially influential factors, such as household income, family background, puberty stage, and physical activity levels.

The researchers emphasise that while their findings are "of considerable potential public health interest," they are observational and so no definitive conclusions can be drawn about causality.

But the use of electronic devices is pervasive, the researchers point out, and there are now more options available, such as tablets and smartphones, than when the study was initially carried out.

"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," they write.

"This is particularly relevant, given rising levels of type 2 diabetes, the early emergence of type 2 diabetes risk, and recent trends suggesting that related activities are increasing in childhood and may pattern screen-related behaviours in later life," they conclude.

Explore further: Data suggests modest physical activity associated with improvement in markers

More information: Screen time is associated with adiposity and insulin resistance in children, adc.bmj.com/lookup/doi/10.1136 … dischild-2016-312016

Related Stories

Data suggests modest physical activity associated with improvement in markers

January 26, 2017
A new report, based on data from the Framingham Heart Study (FHS), suggests that insulin resistance, a predictor of cardiovascular risk and the development of diabetes, may be modulated with even modest levels of physical ...

Smartphones and tablets and adolescents: Small size, big problems?

December 14, 2016
Research has shown that when children watch too much television, their risk of obesity increases. However, more and more screen time is coming from other devices, like tablets and smartphones, and the impact of these devices ...

Weekend screen time linked to poorer bone health in teen boys

June 10, 2015
Weekend screen time is linked to poorer teen bone health—but only in boys, reveals research published in the online journal BMJ Open.

Study reveals protein to target in type 2 diabetes

September 1, 2016
When the body's cells don't respond normally to insulin—a condition known as insulin resistance—blood glucose levels can increase, resulting in type 2 diabetes. Researchers have long known that insulin resistance is linked ...

Children's TV time is closely linked to parents' viewing habits

April 30, 2014
The amount of time children spend in front of TV, phone and computer screens is closely associated with their parents' own habits, with much higher weekend viewing than during the week, a new study has found.

Recommended for you

Implantable islet cells come with their own oxygen supply

April 25, 2018
Since the 1960s, researchers have been interested in the possibility of treating type 1 diabetes by transplanting islet cells—the pancreatic cells that are responsible for producing insulin when blood glucose concentration ...

Bariatric surgery successes lead to type 2 diabetes treatment

April 24, 2018
Bariatric surgery has long yielded almost immediate health benefits for patients with type 2 diabetes, and new findings on the reasons for remission may be the key to developing drug alternatives to surgery.

Hacking human 'drug trafficking' network could make diabetes treatments more effective

April 23, 2018
Making tiny changes to existing diabetes treatments can alter how they interact with cells, and potentially make the medicines more effective.

Vitamin D deficiency linked to greater risk of diabetes

April 19, 2018
An epidemiological study conducted by researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine and Seoul National University suggests that persons deficient in vitamin D may be at much greater risk of developing ...

One class of drug used to treat type 2 diabetes may not reduce the risk of death when compared with placebo

April 17, 2018
One class of drug used to treat type 2 diabetes may not reduce the risk of death when compared with placebo, suggests new findings.

People with Type 2 diabetes who eat breakfast later, more likely to have a higher BMI

April 16, 2018
Being an "evening person" is linked to higher body mass indices among people with Type 2 diabetes, and having breakfast later in the day seems to be what drives this association, according to a new paper in the journal Diabetic ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.