Staring at a computerised screen for three hours or more increases the risk of youngsters developing type 2 diabetes, research has found.
The study by St George’s, University of London, suggested that sitting in front of a smartphone, tablet, computer or television for long periods increases the likelihood of carrying excess body fat and developing insulin resistance in children.
It has already been established that screen time increases the risk of type 2 diabetes in adults, but this is the first study to make the link with young children.
The findings were made after scientists analysed medical data of almost 4,500 children aged 9-10 years between 2004 and 2007.
Research fellow Dr Claire Nightingale, who took part in running the study, said: “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.
“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.”
The research team found that about a third of the youngsters watched screens for under an hour every day; 28 per cent spent one to two hours daily in front of a screen; 13 per cent watched screens for two to three hours daily; and 18 per cent sat in front of a screen for three hours or more daily.
The youngsters were quizzed about how much time they spent in front of a screen, while medical details were also looked at, including body fat, blood pressure, insulin resistance and blood fats we well as fasting blood glucose levels.
In total, details from 4,495 children were studied, with information regarding fitness being available for a total of 2,031 of these youngsters.
A link was found between watching a screen and a number of indicators of body fat such as Body Mass Index (BMI), skinfolds thickness and fat mass index. Children who reported watching screens for three or more hours a day had the highest numbers for these body fat indicators.
Also, the researchers found that there were greater levels of the appetite-controlling hormone called leptin and insulin resistance in those who spent more time watching screens.
Nightingale said the levels of screen time recorded would be much higher if the data was based on children of today. She said: “It would be very difficult to carry out this research today as smartphones and tablets are so universal. Children today therefore spend even more time looking at a screen than when the original dataset was taken.”
The findings were published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.

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