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Longer screen time may increase children’s risk of diabetes

More than three hours of daily screen time may increase risk, study finds

Ingrid Torjesen

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Daily screen time of three or more hours is linked to several risk factors associated with the development of diabetes in children, including adiposity and, crucially, insulin resistance, research* published online in the Archives of Disease in Childhood has found

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 was unclear whether children, who are spending increasing amounts of time watching TV, and using computers, games consoles, tablets and smartphones, might also be at risk.

The researchers measured metabolic and cardiovascular risk factors in nearly 4,495 (2,337 girls and 2,158 boys) 9-10-year-old pupils from 200 primary schools in London, Birmingham, and Leicester. These included blood fats, insulin resistance, fasting blood glucose levels, inflammatory chemicals, blood pressure and body fat. The children were also asked about their daily screen time - watching TV, and use of computers and games consoles.

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 in front of a screen. Of the remainder, 28% said they clocked up 1-2 hours; 13% said 2-3 hours; and around one in five (18%) said more than three hours.

Boys (22%) were more likely than girls (14%) to say they spent three or more hours in front of a screen time daily; African-Caribbean (23%) children were also more likely to than children from a white European (16%) or South Asian background (16%).

Ponderal index—an indicator of weight in relation to height, and skinfolds thickness and fat mass—indicators of total body fat were higher in children reporting three or more hours of daily screen time compared with those who said they spent an hour in front of a screen. Levels of leptin, the hormone that controls appetite, fasting glucose, and insulin resistance, were also associated with three or more hours of screen time.

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 said: “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.

“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 behaviours in later life.”

* Nightingale CM, Rudnicka AR, Donin AS, et al. Screen time is associated with adiposity and insulin resistance in children. Archives of Disease in Childhood, published online first: 13 March 2017. DOI: 10.1136/archdischild-2016-312016

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