20 March 2017

Phones, computers can raise kids' diabetes risk

Kids who spend 'excessive amounts of time' in front of a screen risk having increased body fat and insulin resistance, which may lead to type 2 diabetes.


Inactivity of kids as a result of video games, computers,smartphones and tablets is causing them to become heavier and more unfit than ever before. Children are being socialised into being inactive when their natural impulse is to be play and run around.

An added problem is the fact that kids who are inactive because of too much screen time may be more likely to have risk factors that increase their chances of type 2 diabetes, a new research study found.

The study was published online in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

With recent data from the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) estimating that 7% of South Africans between the ages of 21 and 79 years have diabetes, it may be valuable to screen your and your child's screen time. A recent study suggests that limiting children's screen time could prevent health issues later on. 

Reducing screen time

"Our findings suggest that reducing screen time may be beneficial in reducing type 2 diabetes risk factors, in both boys and girls and in different ethnic groups from an early age," wrote the study authors, led by Claire Nightingale, from St. George's University of London.

Previous research has shown that adults who spend excessive amounts of time in front of a TV or computer are at greater risk for weight gain and type 2 diabetes, Nightingale's group explained.

Since young people are increasingly using devices such as tablets and smartphones, the study authors investigated if this risk also applied to children.

The study included health information on nearly 4 500 children between nine and 10 years old. The youngsters were from three cities in the United Kingdom – Birmingham, Leicester and London.

The children's cholesterol, insulin resistance, fasting blood sugar levels, markers of inflammation, blood pressure and body fat were measured. The kids were also asked to detail their daily use of televisions, computers, video games and other devices.

Increased body fat

Excessive screen time was far more common among boys than girls. Children of African or Caribbean descent were also more likely to spend three or more hours in front of a screen than white or Asian children, the researchers reported. Similar research has not yet been conducted in South Africa.

The researchers found that total body fat among the kids increased along with their screen time. Specific indicators of body fat – such as skin fold thickness and fat mass – were all higher among the kids who got more than three hours of screen time each day than those who got just one hour or less.

Screen time was also linked to the kids' levels of leptin – a hormone that's involved in appetite control and insulin resistance, the researchers said. This was true regardless of other factors that could affect the kids' type 2 diabetes risk factors, such as household income, if they've reached puberty and level of physical activity.

Read More:

Pre-diabetes: could you have it?

US programmes aim to reduce new diabetes cases

Low birth weight may increase type 2 diabetes risk


Ask the Expert

Diabetes expert

Dr. May currently works as a fulltime endocrinologist and has been in private practice since 2004. He has a variety of interests, predominantly obesity and diabetes, but also sees patients with osteoporosis, thyroid disorders, men's health disorders, pituitary and adrenal disorders, polycystic ovaries, and disorders of growth. He is a leading member of several obesity and diabetes societies and runs a trial centre for new drugs.

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