“In 2016, an estimated 1.97 billion adults and over 338 million children and adolescents around the world were categorised as overweight or obese.”
-American Institute for Cancer Research/World Cancer Research International Fund (WCRF).
Body weight is influenced by numerous, interdependent factors ranging from genetics to broader environmental, economic and social factors.
However, in their latest study, WCRF focused on a source that is often overlooked but fast becoming a major threat to public health- use of electronic devices such as computers, tablets and mobile phones whether at home or school or work. Collectively, time spent on all these devices is known as screen time.
Many previous studies had concluded that there was a strong evidence that greater screen time is a cause of weight gain, overweight and obesity in adults.
“However, for the first time WCRF’s Expert Panel found sufficient strong evidence for a separate conclusion: that greater screen time is a convincing cause of weight gain, overweight and obesity in children. This is of particular importance – children living with overweight and obesity are more likely to continue to do so in adulthood, and we know that overweight and obesity in adulthood increases cancer risk.”
Here is how WCRF broke things down.
Balancing the amount of energy (calories) we put into our body versus the amount we use up is known as energy balance. This is determined by the combination of food and drinks consumed, requirements for normal bodily functions and the level of activity (or inactivity). Consuming more energy than we use up, over the long term, leads to weight gain.
How does screen time lead to weight gain?
When using screens, we are typically inactive and use up little energy. This displaces time that could be spent being more physically active. Being inactive can disrupt our normal appetite signalling and lead to passively eating more than is needed. Screen time can also increase exposure to marketing of foods and drinks that promote weight gain. Screens themselves don’t contribute to weight gain, but increased screen time is a marker of an overall inactive lifestyle.
Screen time is increasing globally
Recent rapid economic development, changes to agriculture and globalisation have impacted the foods and drinks we consume – known as the nutrition transition. Concurrently, there have been declining numbers of manual jobs, changes to transport, decreasing levels of physical activity and an increase in sedentary habits (including screen time). Advances in technology have also increased time spent using screens, both at work and during leisure time.
Body weight is influenced by a number of factors, most of which are beyond our personal control. But with the number of people living with overweight and obesity worldwide projected to rise if trends remain unchanged, concerted action is needed – now more than ever – to help reverse these trends.
While society via government is expected to do its part, each one of us must do our part to push back weight gain that may endanger our lives.
Most importantly, children should not be allowed too much screen time to prevent weight gain and obesity. According to the report, children living with overweight and obesity are more likely to continue to do so in adulthood, increasing their risk of various kinds of cancer.
Children need a lot of play time that involves running around both at home and at school.