Teens, screens and snacks - a recipe for heart disease and diabetes
It's no secret that shovelling snacks in our mouths while blobbing in front of a screen is unhealthy, but now science has armed us with hard evidence we can throw at our teens for what they're doing to their bodies.
It's a common sight in South Africa: teens gazing into a screen while spooning unhealthy snacks into their mouths.
Now a study in Brazil has found that this common act among teens puts their health in peril as it pushes them into a high risk group for both heart disease and diabetes.
The research was presented on Monday at the annual global meeting of the international Endocrine Society being held in New Orleans.
Lead researcher Beatrix Schaan from the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul said, "The take-home message is: limiting your screen time is important, but when this is not possible, avoiding snacks while doing so may help you reduce your risk of metabolic syndrome."
The specific risks the teens face include high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat (particularly around the waist) and abnormal cholesterol levels.
Inshaaf Josephs, a work-from-home mother in Cape Town, says her two teenage sons watch television after school and she doesn’t mind as they have to "decompress".
She feeds them a healthy meal but sometimes discovers evidence in the television room that they have been snacking on items meant for school lunch boxes.
"It got to the point that I locked cupboards in the kitchen," she says, "but I guess the trick is to try to make them understand how bad metabolic diseases are so maybe this type of study will mean more than mom shouting at them."
The study included data on 33,900 teens aged 12 to 17. Researchers found those who spent six or more hours a day in front of screens were 71% more likely to have metabolic syndrome compared with those who spent less time in front of screens.
The more time the snacking teens spent in front of a screen, the higher the risk.
The researchers said that if reducing or limiting screen time was a challenge, interventions should focus on reducing the snacking.