Smartphones and Tablets and Adolescents: Small Size, Big Problems?

Cincinnati, OH, December 14, 2016

Research has shown that when children watch too much television, their risk of obesity increases. However, more and more screen time is coming from other devices, like tablets and smartphones, and the impact of these devices has not been researched as much. In a new study scheduled for publication in The Journal of Pediatrics, researchers found that children who reported spending more time on screen devices and watching television engaged in behaviors that can lead to obesity.

Dr. Erica L. Kenney and Dr. Steven L. Gortmaker from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health studied data from the 2013 and 2015 waves of the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, which included 24,800 adolescents in grades 9-12. The survey gathered data on the following: hours spent on screen devices (including smartphones, tablets, computers, and videogames) and watching television, hours of sleep on an average school night, number of sugar-sweetened beverages consumed in the previous 7 days, and frequency of physical activity (at least 60 minutes per day) for the past 7 days.

The researchers found that almost 20% of U.S. adolescents spent more than 5 hours a day on smartphones, tablets, computers, and videogames compared with only 8% watching more than 5 hours a day of television. Watching too much television continued to be associated with obesity and poor diet among adolescents. However, the researchers also found that adolescents who spent more than 5 hours a day on screen devices were twice as likely to drink a sugary drink each day and not get enough sleep or physical activity, and were about 43% more likely to have obesity compared with adolescents who did not spend time on these devices.

Although this study cannot conclude definitively that using screen devices is causing higher rates of obesity, the findings are cause for concern. According to Dr. Kenney, “This study would suggest that limiting children’s and adolescents’ engagement with other screen devices may be as important for health as limiting television time.” Until more research is done, clinicians may want to encourage families to set limits for both television and other screen devices.

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Notes for editors
The article is "United States Adolescents' Television, Computer, Videogame, Smartphone, and Tablet Use: Associations with Sugary Drinks, Sleep, Physical Activity, and Obesity," by Erica L. Kenney, ScD, MPH, and Steven L. Gortmaker, PhD (doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2016.11.015). It appears in The Journal of Pediatrics, (2016), published by Elsevier.

Copies of this paper are available to credentialed journalists upon request; please contact Becky Lindeman, +1 513 636 7140, journal.pediatrics@cchmc.org.

About The Journal of Pediatrics
The Journal of Pediatrics is a primary reference for the science and practice of pediatrics and its subspecialties. This authoritative resource of original, peer-reviewed articles oriented toward clinical practice helps physicians stay abreast of the latest and ever-changing developments in pediatric medicine. The Journal of Pediatrics is ranked 6th out of 120 pediatric medical journals (2015 Journal Citation Reports®, published by Thomson Reuters). www.jpeds.com

About Elsevier
Elsevier is a world-leading provider of information solutions that enhance the performance of science, health, and technology professionals, empowering them to make better decisions, deliver better care, and sometimes make groundbreaking discoveries that advance the boundaries of knowledge and human progress. Elsevier provides web-based, digital solutions — among them ScienceDirect, Scopus, Research Intelligence and ClinicalKey— and publishes over 2,500 journals, including The Lancet and Cell, and more than 35,000 book titles, including a number of iconic reference works. Elsevier is part of RELX Group, a world-leading provider of information and analytics for professional and business customers across industries. www.elsevier.com

Media contact
Becky Lindeman
The Journal of Pediatrics
+1 513 636 7140
journal.pediatrics@cchmc.org