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Electronic devices 'may put children at risk of diabetes'

New research finds ‘screen time’ can be linked to several risk factors for the disease

Children who spend long periods watching electronic screens every day are more likely to have higher body fat, insulin resistance and weight gain, a UK study says.

Heavy use of electronic devices may put a child at risk of diabetes, new research indicates.

Daily “screen time” of three or more hours is linked to several risk factors associated with the development of type 2 diabetes in children, according to a UK study.

Children who spent long periods watching electronic screens every day were more likely to have higher body fat, insulin resistance and weight gain, the research published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood suggests.

Previous research suggested adults are at risk of weight gain and diabetes if they spend too long glued to a screen.

The latest study looked at the effect of screen usage on 4,500 nine- to 10-year-olds in London, Birmingham and Leicester between 2004 and 2007.

One in five said they spent more than three hours watching a television or using computers or games consoles. Boys were likely than girls to be heavy users of screen devices.

Fat mass

Researchers found the more time children spent watching a screen, the higher their skinfold thickness, insulin resistance and fat mass, even after account was taken of family background, household income and physical activity.

The study says the findings are of considerable potential public health interest, but are observational so no definitive conclusions can be drawn about causality.

However, there are now more screen options available, such as tablets and smartphones, than there were at the time of the study, the researchers point out.

“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,” they write.

“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 behaviours in later life.”

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