Media use proven to increase childhood obesity

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Media use proven to increase childhood obesity

CHILDREN’S waistlines have been expanding with the amount of time they spend with televisions, computers, smartphones and tablets, European doctors say.

In the past 25 years, obesity rates have climbed rapidly among European children and teens, according to a consensus statement from the European Academy of Pediatrics and the European Childhood Obesity Group published in ActaPaediatrica.

Roughly one in five kids and teens in Europe are overweight or obese, according to a 2017 World Health Organization study, the authors note.

Today:

  • 97 per cent of European households have a TV in their home
  • 72 per cent have a computer
  • 68 per cent have internet access and
  • 91 per cent have mobile phones

This has spurred a surge in screen time, contributing to inadequate sleep, worse eating habits and less exercise – all of which can make it easy for children to become overweight, the statement authors argue.

“Mass media has been shown to have a broad effect on children’s health and can affect them physiologically and have an impact on their socio-cultural functioning and psychological wellbeing,” said senior author of the statement, Dr.AdamosHadjipanayis.

“There is evidence of a strong link between obesity levels across European countries and childhood media exposure,” Hadjipanayis added.

Parents are part of the problem, Hadjipanayis and colleagues argue.

Even as children’s screen time rises, parents demonstrate little awareness about what their kids do online or how much time they spend with tablets, smartphones and computers, the statement emphasises.

Food advertising is another problem, because it can convince kids to crave and demand more junk food and make them less likely to eat their fruits and veggies, the statement also notes. Kids also tend to consume a large portion of their daily calories while watching TV, when ads may influence their food choices.

The fix is more vigilance, the authors argue.

“When their TV time goes down, so does their (weight),” said Dr. David Hill.

“Food advertising seems to drive this relationship, as opposed to decreased activity. Sleep is also a major concern,” Hill added. “Screen media before bedtime interfere with sleep quality and duration, and poor sleep contributes to obesity.”

Common sense should prevail, said Dr. Jennifer Emond.

“Limit media time each day, no media in the bedroom and ensure the media children are exposed to is high quality,” Emond said. “Regarding social media, parents should have access to their children’s social media sites and monitor their children’s interaction with social media – that has benefits beyond promoting a healthy weight.”

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