Adolescents May Get Too Much Screen Time

Most kids spent more than daily recommended two hours in front of TV or computer screens

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Spending too much time in front of a TV or computer screen can have health consequences for kids that could continue into adulthood. New research pinpoints which groups may be at the highest risk for screen-related health problems.

A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that most young people in 2012 watched TV and used a computer daily. However, only a small number of girls and an even smaller number of boys had two hours or less of screen time per day.

"Monitor the time your child spends in front of a screen."

This study was conducted by Kirsten A. Herrick, PhD, from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), and colleagues.

The study authors gathered data for children and teens between the ages of 12 and 15. The data came from two previous surveys: the 2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and the 2012 National Youth Fitness Survey.

The respondents were asked how many hours per day they watched TV or used the computer on average in the past 30 days.

The findings of the current study showed that 98.5 percent of the participants reported watching TV in the past 30 days. About 91 percent reported using a computer daily in the same time frame.

In addition, 27 percent of the participants said they used the computer every day — but for less than an hour. Thirty percent of the participants said they watched TV for two hours per day.

The results also showed that 7 percent of the participants watched TV and 5 percent used the computer for five or more hours per day.

Dr. Herrick and team found that only 27 percent of the participants met the recommended limit of two hours or less per day of screen time.

The researchers also found differences among the boys and girls for time spent using the computer daily.

Eight in 10 girls reported using a computer for two hours or less per day — versus 7 in 10 boys. However, there were no gender differences when it came to TV time alone or TV plus computer time.

The researchers found that, as the participants’ weight status increased, the number reporting TV and computer usage of less than two hours per day decreased.

Thirty-one percent of the normal-weight participants reported TV and computer time within the recommended limit, versus 23 percent of the overweight participants and 20 percent of the obese participants.

The results also showed that the number of participants who watched TV for two hours or less per day decreased as weight status increased.

Weight did not appear to account for differences in computer time, the researchers reported.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that children and teens limit their after-school TV and computer time to two hours or less per day.

According to the AAP, previous studies have found that watching TV or using the computer for more than two hours per day at home can lead to problems with attention and schoolwork, sleep, and eating disorders and obesity. The AAP also maintains that unrestricted screen time can introduce children and teens to risky and dangerous ideas and behaviors.

Thomas M. Seman, MD, a pediatrics expert from North Shore Pediatrics in Danver, MA, agreed.

"As pediatricians we see this every day in our patient populations," he said. "Children today are getting larger and less social face-to-face, while being involved in more lives electronically. This gives them a sense of connection but without all of the proper skills of patience, understanding body language when interacting with another person."

One systematic review of studies on sitting behavior and health issues in school-age kids determined that watching TV for more than two hours per day was associated with lower self-esteem, less social behavior and unfavorable body image.

"The increased extreme nature of events on television and intensity of video games also increases the child's stress while decreasing the child's standards for acceptable and unacceptable behaviors," Dr. Seman said. "Increased stress can also lead to increased BMI and metabolic syndrome symptoms."

Another study found that watching TV or using a computer for more than two hours per day increased the risk of developing metabolic syndrome symptoms like large waist size, diabetes, high levels of fats in the blood, high blood pressure and high fasting blood sugar (blood sugar level after not eating for eight hours). All of these symptoms are risk factors for heart disease and stroke.

This NCHS published the current study in July 2014 on the CDC website. The study authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
July 25, 2014
Last Updated:
August 11, 2014