New tools, old rules: Limit screen-based recreational media at home

August 6, 2018, American Heart Association
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Screen time from computers, phones, tablet computers, video games, TV and other screen-based devices is associated with an increased amount of sedentary behavior in children and teens, according to a new scientific statement released by the American Heart Association and published in its journal Circulation.

Sedentary behaviors include sitting, reclining or laying down while awake—activities which exert little physical energy—and contribute to overweight and obesity in and teens.

American Heart Association scientific statements are developed by a panel of experts who review existing scientific literature and evidence to provide an overview of a topic related to cardiovascular disease or stroke. In this review, the writing group found that the available scientific literature is based almost entirely on self-reported screen time, with very few breaking down the type of or the context in which it is used, which means that the studies are not designed to prove cause and effect.

The writing group determined that over the last twenty years, TV viewing by children and adolescents has declined but the recreational use of other screen-based devices, such as smart phones, tablet computers and others has resulted in a net increase in screen time overall. Current estimates are that 8- to 18-year-olds spend more than 7 hours using screens daily.

"Still, the available evidence is not encouraging: overall screen time seems to be increasing—if portable devices are allowing for more mobility, this has not reduced overall sedentary time nor risk of obesity," according to Tracie A. Barnett, Ph.D., a researcher at the INRS-Institut Armand Frappier and Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Center, in Montreal, Canada, and the chair of the writing group.

"Although the mechanisms linking screen time to obesity are not entirely clear, there are real concerns that screens influence eating behaviors, possibly because children 'tune out' and don't notice when they are full when eating in front of a screen. There is also evidence that screens are disrupting sleep quality, which can also increase the risk of obesity," Barnett said.

The message to parents and children is to take steps to limit screen time. "We want to reinforce the American Heart Association's long-standing recommendation for children and teens to get no more than 1-2 hours of recreational screen time daily. Given that most youth already far exceed these limits, it is especially important for parents to be vigilant about their child's screen time, including phones." Barnett said.

Recommended interventions to minimize screen time emphasize the importance of involving parents. Parents can help their children reduce screen time by setting a good example with their own screen use and by establishing regulations.

"Ideally, screen-based devices should not be in bedrooms, especially because some studies have found that having screen-based devices in the bedroom can affect sleep. Maximize face-to-face interactions and time outdoors," Barnett said. "In essence: Sit less; play more."

According to Barnett, more research is needed because the patterns of screen-based media use and their long-term effects on children and teens are not yet known. In addition, the authors report that not much is known about how to help youth be less sedentary and the appeal of screens is making this an even greater challenge. Future research should focus on how to achieve greater balance. Detailed information on the overall impact of today's sedentary pursuits—especially with respect to screen-based devices—is needed, Barnett said.

Explore further: Rx for sedentary kids—friends and the great outdoors

More information: Circulation (2018). DOI: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000000591

Related Stories

Rx for sedentary kids—friends and the great outdoors

April 13, 2018
Hanging out with friends can make kids less sedentary, but having inviting outdoor spaces and nearby parks can help them be more physically active, according to new research.

Yet another reason to tell your kids to go outside and play

October 25, 2017
Parents worry about how much time their kids are spending in front of screens, but are they worried for the right reasons?

Unhealthy behavior may be cross-generational

November 19, 2014
Children whose parents spend a lot of time sitting in front of a computer or other screen are more likely than other children to have excessive screen-time habits, as well as associated risks for heart and blood vessel disease, ...

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 ...

Handheld screen time linked with speech delays in young children

May 4, 2017
As the number of smart phones, tablets, electronic games and other handheld screens in U.S. homes continues to grow, some children begin using these devices before beginning to talk. New research being presented at the 2017 ...

Recommended for you

Juul e-cigarettes pose addiction risk for young users, study finds

October 19, 2018
Teens and young adults who use Juul brand e-cigarettes are failing to recognize the product's addictive potential, despite using it more often than their peers who smoke conventional cigarettes, according to a new study by ...

Self-lubricating latex could boost condom use: study

October 17, 2018
A perpetually unctuous, self-lubricating latex developed by a team of scientists in Boston could boost the use of condoms, they reported Wednesday in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

Engineered enzyme eliminates nicotine addiction in preclinical tests

October 17, 2018
Scientists at Scripps Research have successfully tested a potential new smoking-cessation treatment in rodents.

Nutrition has a greater impact on bone strength than exercise

October 17, 2018
One question that scientists and fitness experts alike would love to answer is whether exercise or nutrition has a bigger positive impact on bone strength.

How healthy will we be in 2040?

October 17, 2018
A new scientific study of forecasts and alternative scenarios for life expectancy and major causes of death in 2040 shows all countries are likely to experience at least a slight increase in lifespans. In contrast, one scenario ...

Study finds evidence of intergenerational transmission of trauma among ex-POWs from the Civil War

October 16, 2018
A trio of researchers affiliated with the National Bureau of Economic Research has found evidence that suggests men who were traumatized while POWs during the U.S. Civil War transmitted that trauma to their offspring—many ...

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.