High screen time associated with poor dietary patterns, disrupted sleep, increased stress, finds study
The study found that heavy users, who spent an aggregate screen time of 17.5 hours per day across all devices, reported the least healthy dietary patterns and the poorest health-related characteristics, including a significantly high BMI
Given the number of digital screens we’re surrounded by, a high screen time is now one of the hallmarks of a modern lifestyle. You have your phone to connect to the world with, the laptop or computer screen to study or work on, a personal laptop, computer, tablet or digital television to enjoy your leisure time, binge-watching your favourite shows.
It might all seem like justified use of a great resource but it add up the hours you spend staring at a screen and you’ll know the exposure is excessive. Given this high exposure to screens, it makes sense that there would be negative health outcomes attached, especially in the long run. According to a new study published in BMC Public Health, high screen time can even affect your dietary habits.
How high screen time affects dietary patterns
Conducted by researchers at Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions, the study included 926 American adults of 18 years of age and above who owned a television and at least one other device with a screen. The survey set out to assess screen time across multiple devices, dietary habits, sleep duration and quality, perceived stress, self-rated health, physical activity and body mass index (BMI). Three different screen time categories - heavy, moderate and light - were created and a method called Kruskal-Wallis tests were used to examine the link between dietary habits and screen time categories.
The study found that heavy users spent an aggregate screen time of 17.5 hours per day across all devices. These heavy users also reported the least healthy dietary patterns and the poorest health-related characteristics, including a significantly high BMI as compared to light users. Heavy users also reported the greatest number of days eating a meal together as a family while watching television and therefore spent the least number of days with their family without a screen during meal times. They also reported the highest frequency of fast-food consumption compared to both moderate and light users.
Other significant effects of high screen time
This study deduced that since high levels of fast-food consumption (and therefore high levels of added sugars and faulty nutrition) and low dietary intake of fruits and vegetables are associated with chronic diseases like obesity, hypertension, diabetes and eventually heart disease, screen time - especially at home - needs to be reduced and better regulated.
But diet apart, this study also found that a high screen time affected other vital aspects of an individual as well as a family’s health. The following are the other significant effects high screen time has on your health and can be minimised by reducing the number of hours you spend looking at a screen.
1. Low physical activity: A very low level of physical activity suggests you have a sedentary lifestyle, which not only indicates a higher risk of weight gain and obesity but also of obesity-related diseases. This includes diabetes, hypertension and heart disease and also indirectly includes higher muscle loss and accumulation of visceral fat. This has far-reaching effects on the entire body and every organ system, including your immune system. Getting at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every day is vital for good health.
2. Lowest duration and quality of sleep: Many studies have indicated that adequate sleep is necessary not just to refresh the body but also to keep cognitive decline and mental health issues at bay. High screen time not only leads to hyperarousal and delayed sleep but also causes disruptions during sleep. Therefore, both the quality and duration of sleep are affected by high screen time. It’s recommended that you set aside all screens at least two hours before bedtime.
3. High stress: Stress, especially chronic stress, is known to lead to a plethora of negative health outcomes from lack of sleep and low libido to anxiety and depression. The study above isn’t the first to suggest that heavy users with high screen time have very high levels of perceived stress and that this affects their interactions with their family as well as every other aspect of their lives. It is, therefore, necessary to switch away from screens while you’re at home and engage in other leisure activities that de-stress you like meditation, yoga, cooking and art.
For more information, read our article on Obesity.
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