Three hours of screen time a time puts children at risk of developing type 2 diabetes

by Barbara Hewitt on March 16, 2017

Children who watch television and use computers for more than three hours a day may be at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, new research has found.

Parents around the world worry about the amount of time their offspring spend using screens but now research involving 4,500 nine and 10-year-olds has found that just three hours affects their insulin resistance.

Both adiposity, which describes total body fat, and insulin resistance, which occurs when cells fail to respond to insulin, were affected by longer hours of watching television and using computers, according to the study by the University of London’s St George’s Medical School.

‘Our findings suggest that reducing screen time may be beneficial in reducing type 2 diabetes risk factors, in both boys and girls, from an early age,’ said Dr Claire Nightingale, a research fellow at the university.

‘This is particularly relevant, given rising levels of type 2 diabetes, the early emergence of type 2 diabetes risk, and recent trends suggesting screen related activities are increasing in childhood,’ she added.

The researchers based their findings on a sample pupils from 200 primary schools in London, Birmingham, and Leicester. The children were assessed for a series of metabolic and cardiovascular risk factors, including blood fats, insulin resistance, fasting blood glucose levels, blood pressure and body fat. They were asked about their daily screen time to include TV, computers, and games consoles.

Around a third of the children spent less than an hour of screen time a day, but 28% of the children said they clocked up one to two hours, 13% said two to three hours and 18% said they spent more than three hours looking at screens every day.

Trends emerged between screen time and ponderal index, an indicator of weight in relation to height, and skinfolds thickness and fat mass index, indicators of total body fat. These levels were all higher in children reporting more than three 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 levels of screen time and higher levels of leptin, the hormone that controls appetite, and insulin resistance.

The trends remained significant even after taking account of potentially influential factors, including physical activity levels.

Previous research in adults had indicated that spending a lot of time in front of a screen is linked to a heightened risk of weight gain and type 2 diabetes, but until now it has not been clear that children might also be at risk.

According to Dan Howarth, head of care at charity Diabetes UK, said that the study highlights a worrying trend. ‘The rising number of type 2 diabetes in children is an alarming statistic and addressing the nation’s childhood obesity issues should be the responsibility of us all,’ he explained.

‘Encouraging physical activity over a sedentary lifestyle, such as that relating to screen time, and a healthy balanced diet clearly plays a significant part,’ he added.

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