Higher body fat linked to time five-year-olds spend on screens

Five-year-old Irish children spending more than one-and-a-half hours a day glued to screens have higher weight and body fat than their counterparts with less daily screen time.

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The study of five-year-old boys and girls, which was carried out by the UCD Perinatal Research Centre, found that almost three-quarters of participating children exceeded the maximum recommended dose of screen time of an hour a day.

The research, headed by Dr Aisling Geraghty, found that screen time is linked to weight, body mass index (BMI), and body fat.

We found that longer time spent in front of a screen was linked with a higher waist to height ratio which is an unhealthy body composition,” said Dr Geraghty.

“We also found that children who spent on average more than 1.5 hours each day in front of a screen had a higher weight, BMI, waist-to-height ratio, and body fat measures than children who spent less than 1.5 hours each day in front of a screen.”

The study found that boys spent more time in vigorous physical activity and in front of a screen than girls.

The analysis was carried out on 275 five-year-old children from the Rolo Kids study which is a longitudinal investigation where children are followed up at six months, two years of age, and five years of age to study their growth and development.

The study found that almost three-quarters or 73% of children were exceeding guidelines set out by the American Academy of Pediatrics for screen time of less than one hour per day.

And it found that more than one in three or 37% of the children examined in the study were not meeting World Health Organisation physical activity guidelines of more than one hour per day.

The study, which was presented at this year’s European Congress on Obesity in Vienna, found that vigorous physical activity was positively associated with child weight and BMI while screen time was positively associated with waist to height ratio.

Children who met the guidelines for screen time had reduced waist to height ratio compared with children exceeding screen time.

The authors noted that their findings show the effect of screen time on young bodies.

With three quarters of the cohort exceeding recommendations for screen time, these findings indicate that this could have a detrimental impact on body composition,” said the study’s authors.

The study, entitled ‘Child Physical Activity Levels and Sedentary Time are Associated with Body Composition at Five Years of Age’, noted that childhood obesity is reaching epidemic proportions worldwide.

The authors said: “Identifying modifiable factors to address this has become vital.

“Adverse child behaviour, in terms of low physical activity and high sedentary time, has increased alongside rates of over-weight and obesity.”

In relation to physical activity, the study found that higher vigorous physical activity is linked with higher weight.

“This was a surprising finding and potentially was linked with higher muscle levels which I am currently investigating, so the message should be clearer after this extra analysis is done”, said Dr Geraghty, from the UCD Perinatal Research Centre.


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