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Study: Childhood inactivity and screen time linked to heart damage in young adults
By Zoey Sky // Sep 15, 2023

The average American spends as much as seven hours in front of a screen every day. But according to a study presented at the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Congress 2023, children who are inactive and have too much screen time may be at risk of developing various heart issues.

Too much screen time is bad, regardless of your age

According to research, the average American has at least seven hours or more of screen time. The trend has spread globally, contributing to an international daily average of just under seven hours of screen engagement.

Phones are the most problematic among all devices. On average, Americans spend as much as three hours and 43 minutes on their phones daily. And while too much screen time is bad for everyone regardless of age, it is worse for young children.

Children these days usually spend more time staring at screens, whether they are playing video games, using computers or laptops for school, or browsing on their smartphones.

Monitoring and reducing screen time is key to maintaining children's health

Today, many children avoid in-person interactions with their peers and even their parents, favoring online discussions and screen-based entertainment instead. Some children also prefer having more screen time to spending time with other kids. (Related: Screen time linked to developmental delays in young children.)

Allowing a child or teenager to watch TV for hours uninterrupted comes with other issues that are more concerning than you might think.

Dr. Andrew Agbaje, a study author from the University of Eastern Finland's Kuopio Campus, warned that excessive screen time during their formative years could potentially cause heart damage in young adults. Even if the impact of sedentary behavior might not be immediately apparent, the health problems that could emerge later on can be life-threatening.

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The study conducted by Agbaje and his colleagues was the first study to investigate the cumulative effect of smartwatch-assessed sedentary time in young people and cardiac damage later in life. It was conducted as part of the "Children of the 90s" study, which began in 1990 to 1991 and is one of the world’s largest cohorts with lifestyle measurements from birth.

Study findings revealed an alarming pattern: For every additional minute of inactivity experienced between the ages of 11 and 24, the mass of the left ventricle of the heart increased by 0.004g/m – a metric that measures grams relative to height. This increase becomes evident when the person reaches the ages of 17 to 24.

Throughout the transition from childhood to young adulthood, instances of inactivity have skyrocketed by as much as 2.8 hours daily, translating to almost 170 minutes. Researchers warned that if this level of sedentary behavior persists, the left ventricle’s mass could be augmented by 0.7g/m daily.

This statistic is worth evaluating because previous studies have shown that such an increase in left ventricle mass over a span of seven years increases a person's risk of heart damage, stroke and premature death by 100 percent.

According to the study presented at the ESC Congress 2023, 11-year-old children were observed to be sedentary for an average of 362 minutes daily. This number can go up to 474 minutes by the time children turn 15. By the time they turned 24, young adults were observed to be sedentary for at least 531 minutes.

The accumulation of additional hours spent being physically inactive and too much screen time is bad for overall health because it ultimately contributes to health problems like a heavier heart. It also increases a person's risk of suffering a heart attack, stroke or premature death.

The study results also emphasize that sedentary behavior affects the hearts of young adults, irrespective of their blood pressure and body weight. Keep this in mind if you have young children and take measures to help them avoid the dangers of prolonged inactivity during these pivotal years.

Guidelines for monitoring screen time in young children

Like many things in life, screen time offers benefits when it is used moderately and positively.

If you are a parent, consider the three Cs: Child, content and context.

Your child and family situation will differ from others, but you must remember that managing screen time isn’t solely about monitoring how much time is spent with screens.

You must also understand your child and how different media affect them. Additionally, you should monitor the specific content they are consuming.

Lastly, you must monitor the context, such as where, how and why they’re using technology. You can effectively monitor your child's screen time by paying attention to what they’re doing on screens and how it affects their overall behavior.

Here are some tips to monitor your children's screen time and encourage them to spend more time on physical activities:

Use a positive approach

Avoid offering or taking away devices as a punishment or reward.

Telling your kids that they can "earn" screen time to get them outside and active may reinforce the impression that playing outside isn’t as desirable as playing with screens. It also doesn’t help to promote self-monitoring behaviors in children.

Always present screen time as something to enjoy in moderation, especially if you want them to spend time on other activities.

Be a role model

Children won't always listen to what you tell them, but they are always watching what you do.

If you are having trouble limiting your child's screen time, try to assess your screen time first. If you are spending more time than you should in front of a screen, let your children see how you deal with this.

Help them understand the changes you are making to find balance in your own life.

Make a schedule that you can follow and maintain

Talk to your child and develop a plan to help create boundaries around screen time.

Ask questions like:

  • What are your favorite things to do on your devices?
  • Are there certain times of the day when you prefer to watch movies or play games?
  • When do you think screens should not be allowed?

Block off time during the day when screens are not permitted, such as at mealtimes. This helps ensure that your child has plenty of time for other fun activities like reading or playing outside.

Your goal is to help your child be more mindful of their choices and guide them so they can make good decisions. Your plan will be successful if you create a schedule together with your child that allows them to know when they can switch on their devices and when they should play outside or try other activities.

Encourage your kids to do activities they enjoy 

After your kids realize that they can manage without their devices, help them find activities they can enjoy.

While exercise is important, physical activity is more enjoyable, especially if they like what they're doing. Encourage children to try outdoor activities like riding a bike, engaging in their favorite sport, swimming or playing tag.

Doing this can help your kids develop a positive and healthy relationship with exercise. They’re more likely to make physically active play a regular part of their day.

Have fun with your kids 

Set aside some time to play with your kids. That way you can get more exercise while creating bonds and lifelong memories with them. Enjoying fun activities as a family will also encourage everyone to be more active at home.

Keep your child healthy and happy by monitoring their screen time and encouraging more physical activity. Support their heart health by feeding them nutritious meals and encouraging active play.

Watch the video below to learn how 11 minutes of daily exercise can help lower the risk of early death.

This video is from the Daily Videos channel on Brighteon.com.

More related stories:

Walking 8,000 brisk steps once or twice a week found to boost heart health.

People suffer from anxiety without their mobile phones.

Do these exercises in the morning to boost your heart function and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Sources include:





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