Children who spend more than three hours per day in front of their TVs, tablets or smartphones are at greater risk of developing diabetes, according to new research.
The study found that children who watch TV, play video games and use electronic devices for three or more hours per day are more likely to have higher levels of body fat and resistance to the hormone insulin than those who spend an hour less in front of their screens.
Insulin enables the body to turn sugar into energy. Resistance to the pancreatic hormone makes it more difficult to regulate energy levels and can result in diabetes, a lifelong condition.
While the research published in the British Medical Journal does not indicate that excessive screentime directly results in diabetes, it points to certain behavioral habits which correspond with obesity and increase diabetes risk, the authors noted.
"Screentime could be capturing something about your behaviors — how much sedentary time you have and how much you break that up [or] what your dietary habits [are], potentially," Claire Nightingale, a medical statistician at St George's, University of London and co-author of the research, told the Guardian newspaper.
Analysis of data from almost 4,500 British children aged between 9 and 10 found that almost one in five (18 percent) of those studied spent more than three hours in front of a screen each day; 13 percent said their daily tally was two to three hours, while 37 percent said they watched screens for up to an hour.
Previous research has already indicated the association between screen time and type 2 diabetes risk — developed diabetes — among adults.
"Our findings suggest that reducing screen time may be beneficial in reducing type 2 diabetes risk factors, in both boys and girls and in different ethnic groups from an early age," noted the research authors.
"This is particularly relevant, given rising levels of type 2 diabetes, the early emergence of type 2 diabetes risk, and recent trends suggesting that screen time related activities are increasing in childhood and may pattern screen-related behaviors in later life."
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