Plugged In, Sleep-Deprived and Obese

Nighttime electronic device usage by children linked to less sleep and more obesity

(RxWiki News) Gone are the days when kids might have just had televisions in their bedrooms. Now it's video game consoles, computers, smart phones… and they may have some unintended consequences.

A recent study found kids using electronic devices at night are less likely to get the sleep they need.

And they are all more likely to be overweight.

"Reduce kids' night time electronics usage."

The study, led by H. Chahal, from the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta in Canada, looked at the relationship between nighttime electronics use and obesity in kids.

The researchers surveyed 3,398 fifth graders and their parents from across Alberta, Canada about the children's health and lifestyle behaviors.

The children were evenly split between boys and girls and were diverse in terms of their household income, their parents' education level and their home geography (city, suburb or rural area).

The survey included a questionnaire about the foods the children ate and how frequently, another questionnaire about their physical activity and measurements of their height and weight.

Then the researchers made calculations to look at relationships between children's use of electronic devices in the evenings and their sleep, diet, physical activity levels and weight.

They organized the types of electronic devices they asked about into three categories: 1) televisions, DVD players and video game consoles; 2) computers; and 3) cell phones or other handheld communication devices.

According to the parents' reports, 64 percent of the children had access to at least one electronic entertainment or communication device in their bedrooms.

About 41 percent of the kids watched TV or movies at night in their bedrooms, and 36 percent played computer or video games in the evenings.

A total of 29 percent used the Internet, 22 percent reported chatting online or using a social network and 18 percent reported using a phone to chat or text at night in their bedroom.

Overall, nearly a third of the children (31 percent) reported using one or more electronic devices most nights of the week.

The researchers discovered the children who had these devices — and who used them frequently at night — were less likely to get sufficient sleep and more likely to be overweight.

In fact, children using the devices on most or all nights of the week were 50 percent more likely to be obese than children who did not use any electronic devices at night.

Children using electronic devices at night also tended to have poorer diets and engaged less often in physical activity.

The more electronic devices they had in their bedrooms, the less average sleep the children got.

For example, children with three or more electronic devices in their bedrooms were more than twice as likely to be overweight or obese.

The researchers calculated for each extra hour of sleep the children got, they were about 30 percent less likely to be overweight or obese.

The authors concluded reducing children's usage of electronic devices like televisions, computers, phones, tablets, video games and similar items may help children get better sleep and reduce their risk of becoming obese.

William Kohler, MD, the director of Pediatric Sleep Services at Florida Hospital Tampa, said these findings are interesting in light of what past research has found.

"Previous articles have shown potential correlations between electronic device use at night and behavioral and cognitive difficulty in the classroom," Dr. Kohler said. 

He said one question the study raises is whether the children using the electronic devices significantly are doing so in place of physical activity. If so, that might partly explain the link to obesity.

The study was published September 7 in the journal Pediatric Obesity. The research was funded by Alberta Health and Wellness, a Canada Research Chair in Population Health and an Alberta Innovates Health Solutions Health Scholarship to one of the authors. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

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Review Date: 
October 23, 2012