Children spending three hours a day on social media are more likely to be obese
A Cancer Research UK report has revealed that children who spend more than half an hour a day online are 79% more likely to be overweight or obese.
The research said those who are online between 30 minutes and three hours a day are 53% more likely to be carrying excess weight than those who were online for less.
The same report also found that for every additional hour of commercial TV that children watched was linked with an increased likelihood of pestering their parents to buy products they’d seen advertised.
Children were four times more likely to buy chocolate and over three times more likely to buy sugary drinks if they watched more than three hours of commercial TV every day, compared to youngsters who didn’t watch as much and 59% more likely to be obese or overweight.
The study further indicates that one in three 'year six' children (10-11-year-olds) are overweight or obese and one in every 25 is severely obese.
The UK government has further published plans to halve childhood obesity by 2030 and will be opening consultations on policies including a 9pm watershed for unhealthy food adverts on TV, and how best to regulate on-demand and online adverts.
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The research was carried out by teams of University of Liverpool and Cancer Research UK’s Cancer Policy Research Centre where they asked almost 2,500 seven to 11-year-olds and their parents about their eating habits and how much screen time they had, outside of doing homework.
Emma Boyland, a lead researcher from the University of Liverpool, said: “Young children who spend more time on the Internet and watching commercial TV are more likely to pester for, buy and eat unhealthy food and drinks.
“Parents are all too familiar with being nagged for sweets and fizzy drinks in the supermarket or corner shop. Our research shows that this behaviour can be linked to the amount of time children spend in front of a screen and as a result, the increased number of enticing adverts they see for these sorts of products.”
Jyotsna Vohra, Cancer Research UK's head of Cancer Policy Research Centre, said: “Obesity is the biggest preventable cause of cancer in the UK after smoking so it’s vital we see a 9pm watershed on junk food adverts on TV and similar protection for children viewing adverts on-demand and online.
“The evidence suggests that time spent online, where advertising can be prolific, and watching commercial TV increases the likelihood that children will pester for, buy and eat more unhealthy foods. If they didn’t then the food industry wouldn’t spend so much on advertising.”
The impact of media on children's health has been strongly debated for years, with a lot of attention being given to the increased time children are spending on platforms such as YouTube. While no definitive conclusions have been drawn, the consistent finding is that children are spending more time than ever with new media platforms and at a younger age.