Time to unplug! A new study says three hours of screen time a day may boost diabetes risk in kids. Here's what you can do about it.

Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
screen time linked to diabetes
Credit: BlurryMe/Shutterstock

Do your kids love being on screens? Mine do. And as if I needed another reason to loathe video games (and, even worse, my kids watching YouTube clips of other people playing video games), a new study now says there may be a worrisome risk of excess screen time: diabetes.

Researchers from London University surveyed more than 4,000 kids ages 9-10 and found that boys and girls who reported more than three hours of screen time a day had higher measures of body fat and signs of insulin resistance. Insulin resistance occurs when the body stops responding as it should to insulin, the hormone that moves sugar from the bloodstream and into cells. That can lead to high blood sugar levels, which is why insulin resistance is a risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Obesity and inactivity (as well as family history) are also considered key risk factors.

"I'm not surprised by the study's results," says Sylvia White, RD, a certified diabetes educator in Tennessee. "Many children come home from sitting in school and slide into sitting at home where they watch TV, play video games, or use the endless apps on cell phones and electronic devices. Because many children eat while watching, they are less attentive to being full, what some call 'mindless eating,' which results in excessive food intake."

More than 5,000 kids are diagnosed each year with type 2 diabetes, which used to be called "adult-onset diabetes" because it only occurred in adults. There can be serious, long-term complications, especially if it's not controlled properly, including heart disease and kidney damage.

To help prevent type 2 diabetes, White recommends a whole-family approach that involves making more meals at home, instead of ordering out or going through the drive-thru. "Family meals have a positive effect not only on everyone's physical health, but also reduces other risk factors like alcohol, drug abuse, and eating disorders," she says. She also advises limiting sugary drinks like soda and sports drinks.

And, of course, putting limits on screen time is important too—and can help the whole family be more physically active. The American Academy of Pediatrics, which used to advise no more than two hours a day of screen time for children, has new recommendations on kids and screen time:

  • Age 6 and older: Consistent limits on media as part of a "family media plan" decided by each family.
  • Ages 2-5: No more than one hour per day of high-quality programs (ideally with parents watching with them)
  • Ages 18-24: Can be introduced to some high-quality media
  • Younger than 18 months: No screen time (except video chatting)

How do you control the amount of screen time YOUR kids get?

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She is the author ofThe Snacktivist's Handbook: How to Change the Junk Food Snack Culture at School, in Sports, and at Camp—and Raise Healthier Snackers at Home. She also collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.