Screen Time Hurts Kids' Hearts

Amount of screen time narrows children's arteries, increases risk of heart disease and hypertension

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) When kids spend hours a day on the computer, watching TV, or playing video games they spend less time getting outside and moving around. The amount of time children sit in front of a screen may lead to heart problems later in life.

Researchers found that kids who spent more time in front of a screen had narrower arteries behind their eyes compared to children who spent more time playing outside. In addition, the arteries behind children's eyes became narrower for every extra hour per day that they spent watching television.

"Watching too much TV can hurt your kids' heart health."

Narrowed arteries are a sign of heart disease and high blood pressure in adults. However, this study is the first to show that kids who spend too much time in front of a screen may be putting themselves at risk for heart disease in the future.

According to lead author Bamini Gopinath, Ph.D., a senior research fellow at the Center for Vision Research at the University of Sydney, too much screen time leads to less outdoor playtime, poor eating habits, and weight gain.

The findings of this study suggest that a child's inactive lifestyle can affect heart health early in life, which raises the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure later in life.

Gopinath says that replacing just one hour a day of screen time with physical activity could help to reduce the impact of inactive TV-watching. He adds that parents and schools should encourage kids to play.

In Depth

Looking at almost 1,500 children, Gopinath and colleagues studied the relationship between screen time and microvascular health - the health of the heart's smallest arteries. Specifically, they looked at how time spent in front of a screen was associated with a child's retinal microvascular caliber - the size of the arteries behind the eye.

The researchers had the children's parents answer a questionnaire covering topics such as how many hours per week their child spent doing physical activity versus sedentary activity like watching television, playing video games, using the computer, or reading.

Gopinath's team also measured the children's height, weight, body mass index (BMI), and blood pressure.

They found:

  • More screen time was associated with an average narrowing of 2.3 microns in the retinal arteriolar caliber
  • Children who regularly exercised outside a retinal arteriolar caliber that was on average 2.2 microns wider than those with the least amount of physical activity
  • For every extra hour per day that children watched TV, their retinal arteriolar caliber narrowed by an average of 1.53 microns 
Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 21, 2011
Last Updated:
April 22, 2011