New screen time warning: Doctors argue 2 hour daily limit on gadgets

Gadgets and TVs should be banished from the bedroom and the dinner table in a bid to combat the childhood obesity epidemic, doctors have said.

Youngsters should also be restricted to a maximum of two hours a day of leisure screen time and they should be urged to put down gadgets and go out and play.

Parents also need to take more responsibility in tackling the problem and lead by example by also cutting back on the amount of time they spend in front of the television, or on a tablet or smartphone.

Fat chance: In 2016/17, 1 in 5 children in Year 6 and 1 in 10 children in Reception were obese

Fat chance: In 2016/17, 1 in 5 children in Year 6 and 1 in 10 children in Reception were obese

Around a third of children aged two to 15 in the UK are overweight or obese and their sedentary lifestyles are increasingly to blame.

While a growing body of evidence suggests screen time adversely affects obesity levels in youth, it is not conclusive.

However children are increasingly spending time looking at gadgets and there is no sign this trend is going to banish. 

Now, after a review of all the available evidence, a new scientific statement has been written by experts for the American Heart Association urging children’s screen time to be curtailed.

Get offline: Currently, eight to 15-year-olds spend more than seven hours using screens daily

Get offline: Currently, eight to 15-year-olds spend more than seven hours using screens daily

While children are watching less TV, they are spending more hours looking at screens of computers, smart phones, tablets and video game consoles.

And this increase in screen time is associated with an increased amount of sedentary behaviour in children and teens including sitting, reclining or laying down while awake.

All exert little physical energy and contribute to overweight and obesity in children and teens.

Current estimates are that eight to 15-year-olds spend more than seven hours using screens daily. 

THE STATEMENT 

Chair of the writing group Professor Dr Tracie Barnett at the INRS-Institut Armand Frappier and Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Center, in Montreal, said: ‘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.

‘Although the mechanisms linking screen time to obesity are not entirely clear, there are real concerns that screens influence eating behaviours, 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.

‘Although trends in overall sedentary behaviour are unclear, screens are becoming more and more embedded in all aspects of children’s lives, and increased exposure seems inevitable.

‘We still lack sufficient evidence that can provide guidance on the dose-response relationship between sedentary behaviours and various health outcomes.

‘Although we are not yet able to identify the threshold beyond which sedentary time increases cardiovascular risk in children, there is evidence from various types of studies that sedentary activity can and should be reduced.

‘We want to reinforce the American Heart Association’s long-standing recommendation for children and teens to get no more than one to two 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.

‘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. Maximise face-to-face interactions and time outdoors. In essence: Sit less; play more.’

The new scientific statement was published in the journal Circulation.

OBESITY: THE STATS 

In 2016/17, there were 617 thousand admissions in NHS hospitals where obesity was a factor1. This is an increase of 18 per cent on 2015/16.

In 2016, 26 per cent of adults were classified as obese. This has increased from 15 per cent in 1993 but has remained at a similar level since 2010.

In 2016, 26 per cent of adults and 16 per cent of children consumed 5 or more portions of fruit and veg a day.

In 2016/17, 1 in 10 children in Reception were classified as obese.

SOURCE: NHS Direct 

 

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