According to a consensus statement from the European Academy of Pediatrics and the European Childhood Obesity Group, In the past 25 years, obesity rates have climbed rapidly among European children and teens. The study was published in the Acta Paediatrica. Roughly one in five kids and teens in Europe are overweight or obese, according to a 2017 World Health Organization study, the authors note.
Today, 97% of European households have a TV in their home, 72% have a computer, 68% have internet access and 91% have mobile phones, according to the statement. This has spurred a surge in screen time, contributing to inadequate sleep, worse eating habits and less exercise – all of which can make it easy for children to become overweight, the statement authors argue.
“There is evidence of a strong link between obesity levels across European countries and childhood media exposure,” said senior author of the statement, Dr. Adamos Hadjipanayis, a researcher at European University Cyprus in Nicosia and secretary general of the European Academy of Pediatrics.
Parents are part of the problem, Hadjipanayis and colleagues argue. Even as children’s screen time rises, parents demonstrate little awareness about what their kids do online or how much time they spend with tablets, smartphones and computers, the statement emphasizes.
Food advertising is another problem, because it can convince kids to crave and demand more junk food and make them less likely to eat their fruits and veggies, the statement also notes. Kids also tend to consume a large portion of their daily calories while watching TV, when ads may influence their food choices.
“Food advertising seems to drive this relationship, as opposed to decreased activity. Sleep is also a major concern,” Hill, said. “Screen media before bedtime interfere with sleep quality and duration, and poor sleep contributes to obesity.”
“Limit media time each day, no media in the bedroom and ensure the media children are exposed to is high quality,” Emond said. “Regarding social media, parents should have access to their children’s social media sites and monitor their children’s interaction with social media – that has benefits beyond promoting a healthy weight.”
Parents of children who are already spending hours a day online and watching various screens may want to cut back media use gradually to make changes more effective, said Erica Kenney, a researcher at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston
“If parents find that their kids are using media for something like 7 hours a day or more, which seems pretty typical, trying all of a sudden to get that down to 2 hours a day is probably not going to be successful,” Kenney said. “Gradually implementing rules to help kids cut down on their use is probably going to work better.”