Children Exposed To High Screen Time Are At 69% Increased Risk Of Developing Eating Disorders: Study

Ally Villar
·4-min read

In this generation, more and more kids are growing up in the world of media and the Internet. They are also exposed to a lot of information and higher screen time. And while the latter does have it benefits, there is also a flip side to it. As a new study suggests that too much screen time may cause mental health problems in kids.

The study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders uncovered one of the primary dangers of social media for kids. It noted that children aged between 9 and 10 years were more likely to develop a binge-eating disorder one year later.

What Is A Binge Eating Disorder?

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Binge eating disorder (BED) is a common type of eating disorder. It affects almost two percent adults worldwide and is triggered by emotional distress. Those who have BED typically consume large quantities of food in a short period of time. They then experience shame or guilt afterwards.

Unfortunately, those who suffer from BED do not have control over their eating pattern. Some experts note there may be instances where a person may be unable to resist the urge and continue to binge eat.

In this study lead by Jason Nagata, MD, researchers found two concerning results which link screen time with eating disorders:

  • For each additional hour that kids spent on social media, they had a 62% higher risk of developing a binge eating disorder a year later.

  • There was also a 39% higher risk of this eating disorder developing one year later with each additional hour a child would spend watching television or movies.

Another recent study looked into the prevalence of eating disorders in Singapore and it was found that a large sample of Singaporean adults screened positive for a specified feeding or eating disorder. There was also a 19.5% out of their 797 participants that had a high risk of developing an eating disorder.

How Excessive Screen Time Leads To Eating Disorders In Children

dangers of social media for kids
dangers of social media for kids

Image source: iStock

The authors of the study analysed data of 11,025 children from the years 2016 to 2019. These kids were also part of previous research for the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study.

The 9 to 11-year-old kids were asked questions regarding the time they spent on six different screen time modalities such as television, social media, and texting.

Their parents were also interviewed about their children’s binge eating behaviour, with respect to the frequency and characteristics of overeating and related distress.

Results showed that binge-eating in children according to Nagata may be due to:

  • Distraction while in front of their screens leading them to overeat

  • Exposure to more food advertisements while watching television

  • Binge watching television can cause binge eating “because of overconsumption and a loss of control.”

“Exposure to social media and unattainable body ideals may lead to a negative body image and subsequent binge eating,” adds senior author Kyle T. Ganson, PhD, assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work.

Managing Screen Time For Your Child

dangers of social media for kids
dangers of social media for kids

Image source: iStock

With smartphones and television easily accessible to kids nowadays, here’s how to ensure that your child gets a moderate amount of screen time and is away from the dangers of social media for kids:

1. State down clear rules for them to follow regarding screen time usage. You can set a time limit for them so you are able to estimate the amount of time they spend in front of the screen, each day.

2. Make sure that they take moderate time away from screens. Have them set the smart phone or television remote down and take breaks from screen time every 45 minutes or more.

3. Set a routine for screen time usage. Let them practice routines regularly in when and how much they can use devices.

4. Keep smartphones and other devices away during mealtime and bedtime. To keep them from becoming too attached to social media, you can keep devices away. Especially from areas such as the dining room or when they’re about to sleep.

5. Be a good role model. Of course, for your child to pick up these habits, you should exhibit the same behaviour and manage your own screen time.

As Nagata notes, “Although screen time can have important benefits such as education and socialisation during the pandemic, parents should try to mitigate risks from excessive screen time such as binge eating. Parents should regularly talk to their children about screen time usage and develop a family media use plan.”


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