Screens at mealtimes and in children’s bedrooms linked to weight gain

Published: 26 November 2019

Study suggests promoting mealtimes in a screen-free dining area and removing screens from bedrooms may help combat childhood obesity.

Published 16th December 2019

A new study from the SPHSU has found that bedroom screen access and informal mealtime settings are associated with a higher risk of overweight and obesity in Scottish children.

Children’s weight can be associated with both the setting where children eat their meals and whether they have access in their bedrooms to devices with screens like TVs, tablets or phones, but whether these aspects of family life influence children’s weight gain over an extended period was uncertain.

The study is the first to examine different patterns of childhood weight gain in relation to bedroom and mealtime use of screens, eating in a dining area, sitting at a table to eat, and family conversations during meals.

Key findings

  • Looking at children’s weight across a 6-year period (age 4 to 10), almost a quarter of children were either: consistently overweight (6%), increasingly overweight (12%), or increasingly obese (5%).
  • Children who had a bedroom screen from an early age were likely to be consistently overweight or increasingly obese from age 4 onwards.
  • Children who ate their main meal in an informal setting were likely to show pronounced weight gain from age 4 to 10 (increasingly overweight, or increasingly obese).
  • When mealtime social interactions were rated by parents as being “enjoyable” with “time to talk”, children tended to become increasingly overweight.

The study used data from 2,810 families in the nationally representative Growing Up in Scotland Study of children born in 2004/5. Statistical models controlled for early life factors, household organisation and routines, and children’s diet patterns, overall screen use, physical activity and sleep.

Dr Alison Parkes, lead author of the study said: “Informal mealtimes involving screen use, and children’s bedroom screens, have both become more common in recent years. Our study suggests, however, that promoting mealtimes in a screen-free dining area and removing screens from bedrooms may help combat childhood obesity.

“Our findings do not support the idea that enjoyable mealtime conversations protect children from gaining weight, and are more in line with other work suggesting that parents should address poor eating habits.”

Do bedroom screens and the mealtime environment shape different trajectories of child overweight and obesity? Research using the Growing Up in Scotland study is published in the International Journal of Obesity.

First published: 26 November 2019

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