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‘Poor health’ and screen time on different devices: What is the link?

A recent study has found associations between the time we spend in front of some devices and certain negative health outcomes.

New research has found links between the amount of time that people spend in front of some screened devices and various negative health outcomes.

The study findings, which appear in the journal BMC Public Health, lay the groundwork for future research to explore these associations in more detail.

Throughout the 20th century, television spread across the globe, becoming an important part of many people’s lives.

Significant amounts of research have explored the associations between watching TV for prolonged periods of time and various health outcomes.

For example, scientists have found links have between significant TV watching and obesity and type 2 diabetes, as well as abnormal glucose metabolism.

Part of the explanation for these links lies in the association between prolonged periods of time spent in front of the TV and less healthful eating habits, such as eating more fast foods or items that typically contain higher levels of salt, sugar, and saturated fat.

Although TV is still a central part of many people’s leisure time, there are now many other types of screens competing for our attention. These include computers, tablets, and smartphones.

If there is an association between prolonged TV viewing and negative health outcomes, the question arises: Does this association also apply to excessive use of other screened devices?

For corresponding study author Chris Wharton, the assistant dean of innovation and strategic initiatives at Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions in Phoenix:

“A lot of screen time-related literature has primarily focused on television. But with the advancement of all these other types of devices that people use throughout the day, we wanted to see how health behaviors and factors are associated with a variety of screen-based devices.”

Wharton and team produced an 18-question survey and sent it to 978 adults in the United States who owned a TV and at least one other device with a screen.

After excluding some respondents for incorrectly filling in the survey, the researchers had 926 responses.

The survey measured:

  • the amount of time each person spent on their devices
  • their diet
  • the quality and quantity of their sleep
  • their sense of stress and healthiness
  • how physically active they were
  • what their body mass index (BMI) was

The team categorized the participants’ screen time as light, moderate, or heavy use.

The research showed that people who exhibited heavy use of screened devices — that is, those who had a median screen time of 17.5 hours per day — had the worst health-related characteristics and dietary patterns.

These users tended to eat fewer fruit and vegetables and more sweets and fast foods. They also tended to have the least physical activity, get the least sleep, have the worst sleep quality, and experience the greatest perceived stress (compared with those with light or moderate screen use).

The researchers also found that overuse of different types of devices also had associations with