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Kids’ Screen Time Linked to Diabetes

Does your child log three or more hours of screen time a day? They could be at an increased risk of developing diabetes, according to researchers in the UK.

A study from researchers at St George's, University of London reveals that several risk factors associated with the development of diabetes in children are affected by longer hours spent watching TV and using computers. That includes obesity and insulin resistance, which occurs when cells fail to respond to insulin.

The research has been published online in Archives of Disease in Childhood.

"Our findings suggest that reducing screen time may be beneficial in reducing type 2 diabetes risk factors, in both boys and girls, from an early age," Research Fellow Dr. Claire Nightingale said in a statement. "This is particularly relevant, given rising levels of type 2 diabetes … and recent trends suggesting screen-related activities are increasing in childhood."

The findings are based on a sample of nearly 4,500 nine and ten year-old children from 200 schools in London, Birmingham, and Leicester. Between 2004 and 2007, researchers assessed the children for metabolic and cardiovascular risk factors, including blood fats, insulin resistance, fasting blood glucose levels, blood pressure, and body fat. The researchers also asked the children about their daily screen time, including their use of TV, computers, and game consoles.

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"Trends emerged between screen time and ponderal index—an indicator of weight in relation to height, and skinfolds thickness and fat mass index—indicators of total body fat," according to a news release from the school. "These levels were all higher in children reporting more than three hours of daily screen time than in those who said they spent an hour or less on it." There was also a "strong trend" between screen time and leptin, a hormone that controls appetite and insulin resistance.

Previous studies have linked lots of screen time to a heightened risk of weight gain and type 2 diabetes in adults, but this research shows that children could also be at risk.

"Children today … spend even more time looking at a screen than when the original dataset was taken," Nightingale pointed out.

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