August 07, 2018
2 min read

AHA: Screen time confers sedentary behavior in children, teens

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Elevated screen time is associated with sedentary behavior leading to overweight and obesity in children and adolescents, according to a scientific statement from the American Heart Association.

According to a panel consisting of members of the AHA Obesity Committee of the Council on Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health, the Council on Cardiovascular Disease in the Young and the Stroke Council, although television viewing by children and adolescents has declined during the past 20 years, overall screen time has risen due to increasing use of computers, smartphones, tablets, video games and other screen-based devices.

Americans aged 8 to 18 years spend approximately 7 hours per day on screen-based devices, the panel wrote.

“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,” Tracie A. Barnett, PhD, a researcher at the INRS-Institut Armand Frappier and Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Center in Montreal, and chair of the writing group, said in a press release. “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.”

The panel recommended that parents enforce the AHA’s long-standing recommendation that children and adolescents get no more than 1 to 2 hours of recreational screen time per day.

“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 in the release.

Further research should more accurately capture the nature of sedentary behavior, according to the panel,

“Further evidence is required to better inform public health interventions and to establish detailed quantitative guidelines on specific sedentary behaviors in youth,” the panel wrote. “In the meantime, we suggest that televisions and other recreational screen-based devices be removed from bedrooms and absent during mealtimes. Daily device-free social interactions and outdoor play should be encouraged. In addition, parents/guardians should be supported to devise and enforce appropriate screen time regulations and to model healthy screen-based behaviors.” – by Erik Swain

Disclosures: Barnett reports no relevant financial disclosures. Please see the study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.