Too Much Screen Time has been Correlated with Obesity

Q. Dear Dr. Baskett: My son is overweight and his pediatrician wants him to decrease his “screen” time. What is that and why?

A. Screen time refers to the amount of time your child watches TV, plays on the computer, plays video games, spends texting, plays on an iPad and uses other technology devices. Too much screen time has been correlated with:

  • Obesity
  • Poor sleep
  • Behavioral problems
  • Violence
  • Problems with academics
  • Isolation

In the March issue of the journal Obesity, there was a study that reported an association between screen time and increasing Body Mass Index.

The study included 1,336 participants who were followed from the age of 14-18 years and surveyed every six months.

Each participant would report his amount of screen time for the day (less than one hour per day, one hour a day, two hours per day, three hours per day, four hours a day, or five or more hours a day).

The BMI was calculated from the participant’s report of his height and weight.

BMI was listed as the 10th, 25th, 50th, 75th and 90th percentiles. (Percentiles are based on the BMI/age growth charts).

The researchers hypothesized that increased amounts of screen time would correlate with a higher BMI percentile.

Increases at all the BMI percentiles over time were observed, with the greatest increase observed at the 90th BMI percentile.

Screen time was positively associated with changes in BMI at the 50th, 75th and 90th BMI percentiles.

No associations were observed between screen time and changes at the 10th and 25th BMI percentiles.

Thus, this study showed that especially for teens in the higher BMI percentile there was a positive correlation between the amount of screen time and an increasing BMI.

Therefore, lowering screen time, especially among overweight and obese adolescents, could contribute to reducing the prevalence of adolescent obesity.

Kathleen Baskett, MD is the Medical Director of Weight Management at St. Vincent Healthcare. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and the author of “Moving Forward: The Weigh to a Healthier Weight”.