October 6, 2011
Kids with type 1 diabetes who spend hours in front of a TV or computer each day may have poorer blood sugar control, a new study suggests.
It’s not clear why the relationship exists, and the findings do not prove that “screen time” itself worsens kids’ diabetes control.
But factors like obesity, exercise habits and family income did not explain the connection, the study found.
Among 296 children, teens and young adults with type 1 diabetes, those who spent 4 or more hours per day in front of a TV or computer had higher hemoglobin A1C levels — a measure of blood sugar control over the past few months.
On average, their hemoglobin A1C was 9.3 percent, versus about 8.5 percent among their peers who spent less time in front of a screen.
Experts recommend that adults keep their A1C levels below 7 percent, while levels in children and teens can go as high as 8.5 percent, depending on their age.
The goal of reining in blood sugar is to help curb the risk of long-term diabetes complications — which range from heart and kidney disease, to nerve damage to vision loss.
Exactly why screen time was connected to blood sugar control in this study is not clear, according to the researchers, led by Dr. Angela Galler of Charite-Universitatsmedizin Berlin in Germany.
One possibility, they say, is that kids who spend more time in front of the TV or computer snack more often. So it may be more difficult to control their blood sugar than when they stick with more-regular meals.
People with type 1 diabetes have to inject insulin every day, generally timed around meals, to control their blood sugar levels.
But while snacking could be a culprit, this study cannot really prove that screen time is at all to blame for the poorer blood sugar control, according to Dr. Sanjeev Mehta, a diabetes specialist who was not involved in the research.
One limitation of the study is that it measured kids’ screen time and their blood sugar control at one time point.
“So we cannot say that increased media consumption leads to poorer (blood sugar) control,” said Mehta, of the Joslin Diabetes Center and Harvard Medical School in Boston.
Another issue, he told Reuters Health in an email, is that the study did not collect information on diet. So it’s not possible to tell whether snacking, or overall eating habits, might explain the findings on screen time.
Mehta said he thinks that screen time would likely play only a small role in why blood sugar control varies from one child to another. But, he added, it’s also something that can be controlled.
“For parents,” he said, “I think the message is that lifestyle matters, and represents a modifiable aspect of their childrens’ lives.”
In this study, kids’ reported exercise levels were not related to their blood sugar control.
But the relationship between exercise and blood sugar control is complicated, Mehta explained.
The body’s response to exercise varies widely, depending on the person and the type and intensity of the exercise. So physical activity may or may not improve hemoglobin A1C.
Despite that, Mehta said, “certainly, there are great benefits to physical activity, including supporting overall cardiovascular health and the child’s quality of life.”
So careful attention to diet and exercise is important for all young people with diabetes, Mehta said.
As for screen time, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children and teenagers spend no more than 2 hours a day in front of a TV or computer. That’s for various reasons, including getting kids off the couch and giving them enough time for a good night’s sleep.
October 11, 2010
NEW YORK — More than two hours a day spent watching television or playing computer games could put a child at greater risk for psychological problems, suggests a new study.
British researchers found the effect held regardless of how active kids were during the rest of the day.
“We know that physical activity is good for both physical and mental health in children and there is some evidence that screen viewing is associated with negative behaviors,” lead researcher Dr. Angie Page of the University of Bristol told Reuters Health in an e-mail. “But it wasn’t clear whether having high physical activity levels would ‘compensate’ for high levels of screen viewing in children.”
Page and her colleagues studied more than 1,000 kids between the ages of 10 and 11. Over seven days, the children filled out a questionnaire reporting how much time they spent daily in front of a television or computer and answering questions describing their mental state — including emotional, behavioral, and peer-related problems. Meanwhile, an accelerometer measured their physical activity.
The odds of significant psychological difficulties were about 60 percent higher for children spending longer than two hours a day in front of either screen compared with kids exposed to less screen time, the researchers report in the journal Pediatrics. For children with more than two hours of both types of screen time during the day, the odds more than doubled.
The effect was seen regardless of sex, age, stage of puberty, or level of educational or economic deprivation.
Psychological problems further increased if kids fell short of an hour of moderate to rigorous daily exercise in addition to the increased screen time. However, physical activity did not appear to compensate for the psychological consequences of screen time.
Give kids screen-time budget
The researchers also found that sedentary time itself was not related to mental wellbeing. “It seems more like what you are doing in that sedentary time that is important,” said Page, noting the lack of negative effect found for activities such as reading and doing homework.
Page and her team acknowledge several limitations in their study, including the potential for a kid to inaccurately recall his or her activities when filling out the questionnaire.
Dr. Thomas N. Robinson of the Stanford University School of Medicine, who was not involved in the study, said the new research was not enough to decipher whether the relationship between screen time and psychological wellbeing was truly cause-and-effect.
“They would have needed to do an experiment, a randomized controlled trial, to see whether limiting television or computer time improves psychological difficulties when compared to a control group that does not limit screen time,” he told Reuters Health in an e-mail.
Robinson noted that his own related research, conducted in this way, found that limiting screen time reduced weight gain, aggression and consumer behaviors in kids.
“There are already lots of reasons to reduce kids’ screen time and this is potentially another,” said Robinson. “In our studies we find that giving children a screen-time budget and helping them stick to that budget is the most effective way to reduce their television, video game, computer and other screen time, and to improve their health as a result.”
He usually aims for a budget of about an hour per day, or a reduction of at least 50 percent from a kid’s starting screen time.
“Parents as well as kids tell us that budgeting kids’ screen time has profound positive effects on their families’ lives,” added Robinson.