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Snacking + screen time: A gateway to metabolic syndrome in adolescents

Roshini Claire Anthony
02 Apr 2019

Snacking while watching television, being on the computer, or playing video games appears to increase the risk of metabolic syndrome in adolescents, according to findings from the ERICA* study presented at ENDO 2019.

Researchers pulled data from 33,900 school-going adolescents aged 12–17 years in Brazil (mean age 14.6 years, 59.4 percent female). They measured blood pressure levels and waist circumference and collected fasting blood samples to assess blood glucose, HDL-cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.

Through surveys, the adolescents provided information on their daily screen time – television-, computer-, or video game-facing time – which was categorized as 2 hours, 3–5 hours, or 6 hours per day. They also contributed information on their snack intake in front of screens, with those answering yes being categorized based on frequency of snacking during screen time (ie, sometimes, almost every day, or every day).

Metabolic syndrome was present in 2.5 percent of the adolescents. About 85 percent consumed snacks while watching television, while 64 percent did so while on the computer or playing video games.

Compared with adolescents who had less screen time, those with 6 hours of screen time per day had a higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome (odds ratio [OR], 1.71, 95 percent confidence interval [CI], 1.04–2.79). [ENDO 2019, abstract OR21-5]

However, this increased risk of metabolic syndrome was specific to adolescents who consumed snacks while in front of the television (3–5 hours/day: OR, 1.96, 95 percent CI, 1.37–2.80; 6 hours/day: OR, 2.63, 95 percent CI, 1.68–4.11) or while on the computer or playing video games (3–5 hours/day: OR, 1.77, 95 percent CI, 1.15–2.72; 6 hours/day: OR, 2.05, 95 percent CI, 1.24–3.38).

Studies on the impact of long hours of screen time on the risk of developing metabolic syndrome have yielded inconsistent findings, said study lead investigator Dr Beatriz Schaan from the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul in Porto Alegre, Brazil and co-authors. Furthermore, how snacking during screen time affects this risk has not been established.

“We concluded that higher screen-based sedentary times were positively associated with metabolic syndrome. However, this association is modified by snack intake,” said Schaan.  

“As we live surrounded by screens, especially young people, sometimes it is not feasible to eliminate or reduce screen time. In these cases, avoiding snack consumption may be easier,” she said.

“The take home message is limiting your screen time is important, but when it is not possible, avoiding snack consumption may help you to reduce your risk of metabolic syndrome,” she added, calling for interventions that concurrently help reduce screen time as well as snack consumption in adolescents.

 

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