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Three hours or more of screen time per day increases type 2 diabetes risk in children

by Barbara Hewitt on August 2, 2017

Spending three or more hours per day on a screen from an early age is linked with several risk factors associated with the development of type 2 diabetes in children, new research has found.

Both adiposity, which describes total body fat, and insulin resistance, which occurs when cells fail to respond to insulin, are affected by longer hours of watching television and using computers, according to the study.

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The researchers from St George’s, University of London looked at a sample of almost 4,500 nine to 10 year old pupils from 200 primary schools in London, Birmingham and Leicester and assessed them for series of metabolic and cardiovascular risk factors.

They looked at blood fats, insulin resistance, fasting blood glucose levels, blood pressure and body fat. The children were also asked about their daily screen time which included television, computers and games consoles.

Complete information was obtained for 2,337 girls and 2,158 boys out of the 5887 who took part in the study between 2004 and 2007 and additional data on physical activity was also available for 2031 of them.

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 their tally was 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.

‘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. 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,’ said research fellow Dr Claire Nightingale.

‘It would be very difficult to carry out this research today as smartphones and tablets are so universal. Children today therefore spend even more time looking at a screen than when the original dataset was taken,’ she added.

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

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

March 16, 2017 Diabetes General

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 […]

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