Prolonged Use of Screen Devices Raises Obesity Risk

Clinicians may want to encourage families to set limits for both television and other screen devices.

Research has repeatedly shown that watching too much television, increases the risk of obesity in children. However, more and more screen time is coming from other devices, like tablets and smartphones, and the impact of these devices has not yet been researched as much.

In a study in The Journal of Pediatrics, researchers found that children who reported spending more time on screen devices and watching television, engaged in behaviors that can lead to obesity.

Dr. Erica L. Kenney and Dr. Steven L. Gortmaker from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health studied data from the 2013 and 2015 waves of the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, which included 24,800 adolescents in grades 9-12.

The survey gathered data on the following: hours spent on screen devices (including smartphones, tablets, computers, and video games) and watching television, hours of sleep on an average school night, number of sugar-sweetened beverages consumed in the previous seven days, and frequency of physical activity (at least 60 minutes per day) for the past seven days.

The researchers found that almost 20% of U.S. adolescents spent more than five hours a day on smartphones, tablets, computers, and video games compared with only 8% watching more than five hours a day of television.

Unsurprisingly, watching too much television continued to be associated with obesity and poor diet among adolescents. However, the researchers also found that adolescents who spent more than five hours a day on screen devices were twice as likely to drink a sugary drink each day and not get enough sleep or physical activity, and were about 43% more likely to have obesity compared with adolescents who did not spend time on these devices.

According to Dr. Kenney, “This study would suggest that limiting children’s and adolescent’s engagement with other screen devices may be as important for health as limiting television time.”

Although this study cannot conclude definitively that using screen devices is causing higher rates of obesity, the findings are cause for concern.

Until more research is done, clinicians may want to encourage families to set limits for both television and other screen devices.


Kenney, Erica L., and Steven L. Gortmaker. “United States Adolescents’ Television, Computer, Videogame, Smartphone, and Tablet Use: Associations with Sugary Drinks, Sleep, Physical Activity, and Obesity.” The Journal of Pediatrics 0, no. 0 (December 14, 2016). doi:10.1016/j.jpeds.2016.11.015.

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