Studies show that higher screen time (most notably television) is linked with overweight in childhood and beyond. Specific risk factors include having a TV in the bedroom, eating in front of a screen, nighttime use, and exposure to unhealthy food ads. Youth interventions that reduced time spent on screens successfully reduced weight gain. Digital interventions can have benefits, too.
Screen time is often a sedentary behavior and may interfere with time spent engaging in physical activity. Additionally, it has been shown that people eat more when they are watching a screen (e.g. a movie) because satiety cues are dampened. Therefore eating while viewing should be discouraged.
Marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages is another way that screen use can lead to increased youth obesity. Seeing ads for unhealthy foods alters children’s preferences, requests, and eating habits. Youth of color are exposed to more food ads, and for unhealthier foods, than their white peers.
Screen time can also impact sleep health, which is directly linked to increased risk for obesity at all ages. Nighttime screen use impacts sleep duration and quality. Experts recommend keeping the bedroom free of screen devices. The presence of a TV or mobile device increases the amount of nighttime use.
Screens can be used to improve health for youth in some cases. Interactive games can help improve both eating and physical activity behaviors. When used effectively, these tools can prevent or reduce obesity in youth. Still, active screen time should not replace offline physical activity.