Type 2 Diabetes Linked to Smartphone, Television Use in Children

Increased screen time observed to be associated with adiposity.

Diabetes prevalence has increased among both adults and children over the past few years. Despite initiatives to promote healthy diets and physical activity, obesity and type 2 diabetes have become more common.

The amount of time spent in front of the television or using computers was recently linked to diabetes risk in children in a new study published by the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

The study authors discovered that 3 or more hours of screen time increased adiposity and insulin resistance among children, which are common characteristics of type 2 diabetes.

“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 researcher Claire Nightingale, PhD. “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.”

Included in the study were 4495 children aged 9 to 10 attending primary school in London, Birmingham, and Leicester between 2004 and 2007. Participants were screened for metabolic and cardiovascular risk factors, such as blood fat, insulin resistance, blood glucose levels, blood pressure, and body fat.

The authors also interviewed the children to determine daily screen time, which included television, computers, and gaming consoles. Additional information about physical activity was available for 2031 children, according to the study.

Approximately one-third of children had less than 1 hour of screen time per day, while 28% spend 1 to 2 hours per day participating in the designated activities. Another 13% of children spent 2 to 3 hours looking at screens, and 18% reported spending more than 3 hours looking at screens per day, according to the study.

The authors determined there was an association between screen time and ponderal index, which is calculates weight in relation to height, skin fold thickness, and body mass index.

Children who spent more than 3 hours of screen time per day were seen to have higher measures of adoposity than those who spend less than 1 hour per day watching television, using the computer, or playing video games, according to the study.

Additionally, the authors discovered that screen time was also linked to higher leptin, the appetite suppression hormone, and insulin resistance. Even after physical activity was taken into account, the results remained unchanged.

Previous studies have linked increased screen time to weight gain and type 2 diabetes in adults. However, these results suggest that children are at risk as well.

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

Since children are more likely to spend even more time in front of screens today, the risks are likely higher, which may explain why many young children have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.