Screen time a main cause of obesity, say doctors

Experts observe that cases of obesity have increased by almost 35 per cent in the last decade

Obesity is increasingly becoming a major concern among children and youngsters in Bengaluru. One of the biggest contributing factors is a rise in screen time (the amount of time spent using a device with a screen such as a smartphone, computer, television, or video game console). 

On World Obesity Day, Metrolife asked medical experts about this dangerous trend, the risks involved and how to avoid this. 

Dr Nanda Rajneesh, breast and obesity surgeon, Sakra World Hospital, points out that a slight potbelly and bigger hips are signs of future obesity, especially in children. 

“Children are supposed to burn calories around the clock, when they are on the move or otherwise, as their bones, muscles and tendons are growing. Symptoms like slow learning, fatigue or tiredness and attention deficit (which are not common among children) show a shift in the metabolic cycle,” she says.

She says that while children belonging to the previous generations spent most of their time outdoors, they now stay indoors for long periods, often using gadgets or in front of the television. “Around 20 per cent of the factors contributing to obesity in the younger lot is connected to screen time,” she says.

Playing online games does not involve much creativity but just causes excitement; this leads to increased metabolism in the brain but not muscular metabolism. 

“When children stay cooped up indoors, they can have a Vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is needed to maintain the metabolic rate in the body. A lack of it can lead to hormonal imbalance and increase in body weight,” she says. 

As patterns of obesity have shifted, early menarche in girls and exogenous hormones (introduced by lifestyle) are also leading to obesity among children as young as ten years old.  

Dr Mahesh Channappa, senior consultant - general laparoscopic and bariatric surgery, Aster CMI Hospital, says that children are influenced by their parents who are busy in their own digital world. “Cheap internet access and technological advances is causing everyone to be plugged in most of the time. So, obesity is now common among both affluent and lower economic groups,” he says.

He notes that screen time has increased the rate of obesity and cases among people (including children and youngsters) by around 35 per cent over the last decade.

Dr K J Kiran, consultant laparoscopic gastro and bariatric surgeon, Apollo Hospitals, Bannerghatta Road, agrees that screen time contributes to 20 per cent or more of collective reasons that lead one to obesity.

“From shopping to entertainment, everyone is turning to mobile applications for everything now. Even children are playing games on the mobile and actual physical activity has reduced drastically,” he says.

An ideal diet for kids

“Antioxidant diet: anything that doesn’t form gas in the stomach, which is not fast food or stretches the stomach works perfectly. Fruits, vegetables, the right among of protein and nutrition work best for good metabolic pattern.” 

— Dr Nanda Rajneesh, Breast and Obesity Surgeon, Sakra World Hospital

How to wean kids away from gadgets

Avoid giving mobile phones to children, especially smartphones. Give them basic handsets to stay in touch with you. 

Fix a certain time for internet and watching television; do not exceed one hour. 

Discuss such issues as a group, with other children and parents, either in your apartment complex or with friends. This will help your child understand the implications of screen time without feeling attacked personally. 

Encourage children to engage in sports and physical activity at least for an hour on a daily basis. 

Parents should avoid using mobile phones in front of children.

Do not use tablets or mobile phones to distract children during dinner time. Talk to them and tell stories, to engage a fussy eater.

Use a multi-disciplinary approach and include advice from psychologists, nutritionists, dieticians and wellness physicians. 

 

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