Food behaviors, movement behaviors and sleep: what links?

Relation between screen-time and dietary choices: less fruit and vegetables consumed by “heavy users”

screen-time and dietary choices- GFVN - February 2023

Television viewing represents one of the most common sedentary behaviors among the US population, with adults watching approximately 34h per week. It is also a significant predictor for many non-communicable diseases and all-cause mortality. Particularly, watching two or more hours of television per day has been associated with adverse health behaviors, numerous chronic diseases, cancer-related mortality and early mortality generally. Moreover, long hours of screen time have been associated with poor dietary patterns among adults, including higher consumption of sugar and lower intake of fiber, fruit and vegetables (Hu, 2001 ; Hu, 2003 ; Dunstan, 2004 ; Bowman, 2006 ; Ford, 2010).

The aim of this study was to explore whether extended use of a variety of screen-based devices, in addition to television, was associated with dietary habits, physical activity, stress, sleep, and sleep quality among US adults.

« Heavy users » of screens consumes few fruit and vegetables

The present study found poorer dietary habits among individuals spending a significant portion of their day using a variety of screen-based devices (i.e., total screen time). These “heavy users” reported the least healthy dietary patterns (e.g., they consumed few fruits/vegetables and regularly consumed sodas/sweet tea), the lowest frequency of meals shared with the family without screens on, and the highest frequency of fast-food consumption. When analyzed separately by type of screen, only “heavy users” of television and smartphones showed statistically different scores in dietary patterns compared to the other groups.

The results also highlight the importance of separately exploring the impact of different screen devices on dietary habits instead of focusing only on an aggregate measure of total screen time.

Both “heavy users” of TV and TV-connected devices reported a statistically higher frequency of family meals while watching TV. However, frequency of family meals has been identified as a predictor of healthier dietary patterns and better weight management among children and adolescents (Hammons, 2011). This association could be explained by the fact that frequent family meals may support improved family cohesion, problem-solving, and emotional coping which are considered as mediators of improved health outcomes (Franko, 2008). Yet, it remains unclear if the potential of family meals to support more healthful outcomes for children and families could be disrupted by watching television or otherwise engaging in screen time during those meals. Given that « heavy users » of screens in the study reported the greatest number of days sharing a family meal while watching television as well as the highest intake of fast foods, more research is needed to explore how simultaneous engagement in screen time and family meals might relate to the emotional and physical health of families.

« Binge watching », a growing phenomenon associated with unhealthy dietary habits

Binge-watching is defined as the continuous consumption of screen-based entertainment facilitated in part by media streaming services and television-connected devices. In this study, binge-watching was significantly associated with the least healthy dietary habits, frequency of fast-food consumption and eating family meals in front of the television. Heavy users of all screens also reported the lowest physical activity, self-rated health, hours of sleep, sleep quality, and highest perceived stress. In sum, results indicate that prolonged screen time may be associated with a constellation of diverse factors that adversely impact health, perhaps differentially by type of screen.

Future studies should continue to investigate how various screen-based devices might affect health behaviors and subsequently health-related outcomes in the long-term.

Based on: Vizcaino, M et al. From TVs to tablets: the relation between device-specific screen time and health-related behaviors and characteristics. BMC Public Health, 2020; 20(1) :1295

Key messages
  • Poorer dietary choices, as well as other negative health-related impacts, occurred more often as the viewing time of a variety of different screen-based devices increased in a sample of US adults.
  • “Heavy users” of screens reported the least healthy dietary patterns (e.g. they consumed few fruits/vegetables and regularly consumed sodas/sweet tea), the lowest frequency of meals shared with the family without screens on, and the highest frequency of fast food consumption
  • Future research is needed to better understand what factors among different screen-based devices might affect health behaviors and in turn health-related outcomes.
Return See next article