A new British study suggests that the amount of time that children spend in front of a video display can have a significant impact on their chances of developing diabetes.
UK researchers found that in excess of three hours screen time per day is linked to risk factors for type 2 diabetes, such as higher body fat.
The study used data from almost 4,500 children aged around 10 years, collected between 2004 and 2007.
It discovered that children with excessive amounts of screen time had higher percentages of body fat and insulin resistance compared to those spending less time in front of video displays.
Screen time was defined as time spent watching television and using computers or games consoles.
Researchers believe that an excessive amount of screen time is indicative of a sedentary lifestyle.
And it is possible that the results could be even worse in the modern day society, with data having been collected before the use of smartphones and tablets became widespread in children.
Indeed, it seems likely that the level of screen time has in fact increased since the study was undertaken.
Recent US guidelines recommend no screen time for infants under 18 months, one hour for children aged 2-5, and then older children should be assessed on a case-by-case basis by their parents.
It is notable that there is no parallel guidance in Britain.
However, the study does support physical activity recommendations for children, which suggest that all young people should do at least one hour of exercise daily.
The study was carried out by researchers from the University of London and the University of Glasgow.
Funding was provided by the National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC). Data collection was funded by grants from the Wellcome Trust, the British Heart Foundation and the National Prevention Research Initiative.
The study was published in the peer-reviewed medical journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.
There were no conflicts of interest reported by the research team.
Researchers concluded: “Strong graded associations between screen time, adiposity and insulin resistance suggest that reducing screen time could facilitate early T2D [type 2 diabetes] prevention. While these observations are of considerable public health interest, evidence from randomised controlled trials is needed to suggest causality.”
While there is an interesting correlation reported by this research, many other factors could have contributed to the results.
It is also notable that children self-reported in this experiment, which is notoriously unreliable.
Nonetheless, parents are recommended to encourage their children to engage in physical activity on a regular basis.