Screen-Time Linked With Unhealthy Eating Habits in Children

A new study has found that five and six-year-olds’ screen-time is linked with low fruit and vegetable consumption and high intake of unhealthy snacks such as crisps, chocolate and biscuits.

The research, led by Dr Emma Haycraft, of Loughborough University’s School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences and the NCSEM-EM, also suggests that parents’ own tech and eating habits are influential to their youngsters’ behaviours.

The study, titled Clustering and correlates of screen-time and eating behaviours among young children, was funded by the British Heart Foundation and conducted by Dr Natalie Pearson.

Dr Pearson says technology is developing at a rapid rate and increases in screen-time in young people reflect this continual development.

According to recent figures from Ofcom, children aged three to four-years-old watched on average of 15 hours of television a week in 2017 (an increase of an hour from 2016) and five to seven-year-olds watched around 13-and-a-half hours a week (an increase from the previous year’s 12-and-a-half hours).

Ofcom also said that increases in internet use in children aged five and above reflect increased tablet use and ownership – with around 30% of five-year-olds having their own portable computer device.

Screen-time and unhealthy dietary behaviours are highly pervasive in young children and previous evidence suggests that these behaviours often co-occur and are associated.

The aim of the study was to understand how the two concepts are linked in young children and examine some of the factors that are associated with these behaviours.

Identifying clusters of unhealthy behaviours, and their influences early in childhood can assist in the development of targeted preventive interventions.

The research project saw parents of 126 children, aged five to six-years-old from the UK, complete a questionnaire that assessed their child’s screen time and consumption of fruit, vegetable and energy-dense foods (such as crisps, chocolate, biscuits and sweets); the parents also reported on their own screen and eating behaviours.

The results found that screen-time and poor eating were consistently linked and that parents’ habits were also related to their youngsters’ behaviours.

The study also revealed that children who ate meals in front of the TV and children who had a higher availability of energy-dense snack foods at home were more likely to have higher screen-time, lower fruit and vegetable consumption and higher energy-dense snack food consumption.

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