The new scientific statement, published in the journal Circulation, says that screen-based devices are associated with an increased amount of sedentary behaviour in children and teenagers.
“Although the mechanisms linking screen time to obesity are not entirely clear, there are real concerns that screens influence eating behaviours, possibly because children ‘tune out’ and do not notice when they are full when eating in front of a screen,” said Tracie A Barnett from the INRS-Institut Armand Frappier in Canada.
“There is also evidence that screens are disrupting sleep quality, which can also increase the risk of obesity,” Barnett added.
The statements are developed by a panel of experts who review existing scientific literature and evidence to provide an overview of a topic related to cardiovascular disease or stroke.
In this review, the group found that the available scientific literature is based almost entirely on self-reported screen time, with very few breaking down the type of device or the context in which it is used, which means that the studies are not designed to prove cause and effect.
The writing group determined that over the last 20 years, TV viewing by children and adolescents has declined but the recreational use of other screen-based devices, such as smart phones, tablet computers and others has resulted in a net increase in screen time overall.
Current estimates are that eight to 18-year-olds spend more than seven hours using screens daily.
The recommended interventions to minimise screen time emphasise the importance of involving parents, the researchers said.
Parents can help their children reduce screen time by setting a good example with their own screen use and by establishing screen time regulations, they noted.