Children who spend more time looking at screens, including while watching television and engaging with social media, may be at risk of developing binge-eating disorder one year later, according to a study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.
“Health care providers should assess for associations between excess screen time usage and binge eating, and advise about potential risks associated with excessive screen time,” wrote Jason Nagata, M.D., M.Sc., of the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues.
Nagata and colleagues analyzed data from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study, which included 11,025 children aged 9 to 10 years recruited from 21 sites across the United States. At baseline, children reported on the typical amount of time they spent on screens, including watching television or movies, streaming videos on platforms such as YouTube, playing video games, texting, video chatting, or social networking. At baseline and one year later, parents or caregivers completed the binge-eating disorder module of the Kiddie Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia on behalf of the child.
On average, children reported four hours of screen time a day, the majority of which was spent watching television or movies, playing video games, and streaming videos. The rate of participants who met the criteria for binge-eating disorder rose from 0.7% at baseline to 1.1% at follow-up.
Each additional hour of total screen time a day at baseline was associated with greater odds of binge-eating disorder at the one-year follow up. Greater amounts of time spent social networking, texting, and watching television/movies were associated with the highest risks for binge-eating disorders one year later. Social networking had the greatest association with binge-eating disorder, as each additional hour of social networking a day was associated with a 62% higher risk.
The authors noted several potential causes for the link between screen time and binge-eating disorder. “First, children may be more prone to overeating in the absence of hunger while distracted in front of screens,” they wrote. “Second, binge-watching behaviors may lead to overconsumption and a loss of control, similar to binge-eating behaviors. Third, adolescents who hold negative feelings toward their own body image are more likely to binge eat, and researchers posit that media or advertising content reflecting an unattainable body ideal may exacerbate binge eating.
“Given the rapid rise in screen time and disordered eating during the COVID-19 pandemic, future research should study these associations during the pandemic,” the authors concluded.
For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Binge-Eating Risk Factors In Adolescents Vary by Socioeconomic Status.”
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