A REPORT RELEASED IN NOVEMBER 2018 by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) suggests that time spent looking at screens on electronic devices is linked to weight gain and obesity, particularly in children. Approximately 70 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, both of which are risk factors for a dozen types of cancer.

The report looked at 15 results from published prospective studies of adults and screen time. The studies had assessed the physical effects of screen time by measuring factors including changes in weight, body mass index and waist circumference. Nine of these results showed a connection between screen time and increases in body size and weight.

To study children and screen time, the report looked at published meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials and prospective cohort studies plus 41 additional study results. More than 75 percent of these results linked increased screen time with weight gain.

The link between screen time and weight gain is multifaceted, says Nigel Brockton, a molecular epidemiologist who is the vice president of research for the AICR in Arlington, Virginia. “People are generally not active when they’re looking at screens,” he explains. The time spent looking at a screen also displaces time that could be spent on more active pursuits, he says.

Tips for Cutting Back

Three tools to help you reduce your screen time.

  • Use apps to track your screen time to learn more about how you’re using your devices and how you might be able to use them less. Screen time tracking apps include Moment and Screen Time on iOS devices.
  • Freedom allows you to block access to selected websites, apps or the internet as a whole.
  • If you are using a device with a screen or watching television, set a timer to get you up and moving or stand up during ad breaks. The app Stand Up! lets you set customized reminders to get more movement in your day

In addition, screen time can affect other health-related behavior—those spending time on screens may also be snacking on high-calorie, low-nutrition food regardless of their hunger level, because being inactive alters how well people can assess their need for food.

Jeremy Walsh, an exercise physiologist at the University of British Columbia Okanagan in Kelowna, acknowledges that because screens are ubiquitous, it’s not realistic for most people to cut these devices from their lives entirely. “It’s about finding healthy and mindful behavior with your screens and having them not rule you,” he adds.