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The Truth Behind Screen Time And Obesity

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Obesity has been a struggle for people since the beginning of time.

Many of us have been there, suddenly putting on weight at some point in our lives. If you haven't personally, the chances are you will know someone who has gone through similar issues.

Most people think that obesity and weight issues are something that only adults go through, but this cannot be further from the truth.

In fact, Disease Control and Prevention (2021) states that 19.7% of children aged 2-19 are classed as obese.

obese girl obesity screen time parents aware

Another concerning truth is that, on average, children ages 8-12 in the United States spend 4-6 hours a day watching or using screens, and teens spend up to 9 hours (American Academy of child and adolescent psychiatry 2020).

While these are both shocking facts, there is something important to consider— are these facts connected?

The relationship between screen time and obesity

There is a significant relationship between screen time and obesity (it has been studied since the 80s!).

A study by Gortmaker et al., 1996 found that 60% of the overweight sample was attributable to excessive television viewing.

Surprisingly, obesity is one of the strongest proven outcomes of screen time.

screen time and weight obesity

Researchers have even determined a causational relationship between screen time and body weight.

Research conducted by Lane et al., 2013 found a significant relationship between children having a television in their room or a mobile phone and being overweight or obese.

Epstein et al. 2008 conducted a study to learn more about the link between screen time and obesity.

In his study, he found that the sample who reduced their screen time, as a result, slowed their gain in:

  • BMI
  • Triceps skinfold thickness
  • Waist circumference
  • Waist-to-hip ratio

when compared to the sample who did not reduce their screen time. 

But how does screen time link to obesity?

There are three main links between screen time and obesity:

1. Increased eating while using screens, leads to greater calorie intake 

2. Seeing advertising for high-calorie, low-nutrition foods and beverages, leads to a change in children’s preferences, purchase requests, and eating habits,

3. Disrupting sleep caused by staying up to use screens, leads to having poorer quality sleep and less sleep overall

Laurson et al. 2008 even found that children with more screen time spent less time engaging in physical activity.

This fact is no surprise when we think about the displacement hypothesis in screen time. 

The displacement hypothesis states that screen time negatively affects mental well-being because it displaces time to participate in healthier activities, such as physical exercise.

Can screen time improve cognitive and physical health? 

Even though all the facts seem to be pretty negative, Carrots&Cake is here to assure you that it's not all bad!

too much screen time equals weight gain obesity

In fact, some studies highlight that interactive games can be designed to help improve eating and physical activity behaviors to potentially prevent or reduce obesity (Calvert. et al., 2013).

Kharrazi 2013 found that active video games such as Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Wii Sports increased physical activity and reduced obesity.

This is proven to be most successful when these games are used as part of a weight control program alongside other activities (Trost et al 2014).

While this is hopeful to hear, more research is needed to examine the effects of newer mobile and other digital media exposures on obesity, as the way children engage with screens has changed tremendously.

Another way to ensure that screen time improves physical and cognitive health is to ensure that your family follows recommended screen time and exercise guidelines. 

Laurson. et al. 2008’s guidelines suggest children have at least one hour of physical activity and have a maximum of two hours of screen time.

Is there a way to balance screen time and obesity?

With Carrots&Cake you and your family can!

Carrots&Cake provides a science-backed solution to help you effectively manage your child's screen time.

With Carrots&Cake you and your child can work together to create a solution.

Step 1: Curate a list of learning apps (with your child)

Step 2: Set a timer on how long your child is required to play on your list of apps before other apps are unlocked

Step 3: Enjoy guilt-free screen time as a family

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