Electronic Entertainment — the Dark Side


Childhood Obesity News has discussed many of the electronic devices that help in the effort to end obesity. Another frequent topic has been the larger and indeed overarching truth that obesity is very much a mental and emotional health issue, needing the services of psychiatrists and psychologists.

In a piece that disturbingly combines those two themes, Jefferson Underwood III, M.D., excoriates the digital devices he calls electronic babysitters. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Society of Pediatrics agree on guidelines for kids from age 0 to 12. For the first two years, no exposure to technology at all. What? How likely is that to happen, even in a remote village of agriculturists?

Between ages 3 and 5, technological exposure should be limited to one hour per day, and from 6 to 18, it should max out at two hours. But no. A Kaiser Foundation study showed that kids typically spend with their electronic devices four or five times as much time as the largest recommended allotment. The result is retardation of the growing child’s skills of executive functioning and self-regulation, and the development of psychoses.

There is a lot of depression going around, along with bipolar and attachment disorders. Dr. Underwood says:

Not only are mental health issues a major concern with excessive use of electronic devices, but childhood obesity is also a major concern. Due to increased sedentary lifestyle or lack of movement, our children’s waistlines have grown tremendously over this last decade. Addictionologists are also concerned about the role that digital devices are playing in the development specifically with addictive behaviors.

“Smartphones a culprit in childhood obesity,” reads the headline of an article about the often-overlooked hazards of screen time and sleep deprivation, two obesity risk factors that work hand in hand. It describes quite a sizable study, including 2,000 kids in 4th and 7th grade, which learned that “unfettered access” is a serious problem.

For some reason, staying up late to read a book beneath the bedcovers doesn’t have the same deleterious effect as engaging with a screen. Even if it’s only 20 or 30 minutes per day, sleep deficit adds up and affects physical and mental health in ways that are not yet fully understood. The uncredited writer says:

If you don’t listen to your body and ignore fatigue, it then takes discipline to turn off your devices, even for adults. Imagine the lure it represents for children. Instead of letting our body and brains rest and regroup, we’re engaging them for more hours of the day.

Of course there have been many studies about the relationship between TV advertising and junk food consumption, and another was published earlier this year, this one from Cancer Research, UK. The subjects were 3,348 kids between 11 and 19.

It provided yet further confirmation that young people who watch TV shows with junk food ads are — no surprise here — more likely to consume more snacks and soda than watchers of TV with no ads. Dr. Jyotsna Vohra said:

This is the strongest evidence yet that junk food adverts could increase how much teens choose to eat.We’re not claiming that every teenager who watches commercial TV will gorge on junk food but this research suggests there is a strong association between advertisements and eating habits.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Real cost of ‘electronic babysitters’,” MontgomeryAdvertiser.com, 12/19/16
Source: “Smartphones a culprit in childhood obesity,” GreenbayPressGazette.com, 02/09/15
Source: “TV Ads Trigger Junk Food Cravings In Teens And Pre-Teens, Says Study,” NDTV.com, 01/17/18
Image credit: Eva Rinaldi Photography via Flickr

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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