Reports link kids screen time to increased risk of cancer and short-sightedness

Generic image of boy on phone

Two new reports have linked children's screen time to an increased risk of developing cancer and short-sightedness.

A report from the World Cancer Research Fund finds that greater screen time is a “convincing cause” of weight gain, overweight and obesity in children.

The WCRF said the finding is particularly important as obese and overweight children are likely to become obese and overweight adults and overweight and obesity in adulthood increases cancer risk.

Any time spent watching television or using electronic devices such as computers, tablets and mobile phones is classified as 'screen time'.

Another study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology has found that time spent playing computer games is linked to an increased risk of developing myopia in childhood.

Researchers from King's College, London, studied 1,991 twins born between 1994 and 1996 in Britain. Opticians provided records to show whether the participants were myopic or not.

Overall one in four (26%) of the twins was short-sighted and the average age at which children with myopia started wearing glasses to correct the condition was 11.

The factors found to be most strongly associated with the development of myopia were maternal educational attainment, hours spent playing computer games and being born during the summer.

Children born in the summer start school earlier and so begin close working at a younger age. This could speed up eye growth that is believed to be responsible for short-sightedness.

Fine Gael Senator Catherine Noone said the research emphasises the need for guidelines on face-to-screen distances, a 9pm watershed on junk food advertising on television and similar restrictions online.

Senator Noone said that the number of children suffering from myopia globally has doubled over the last 50 years from 7.2% to 16.4% and experts believe it is because children are staying indoors and staring at screens.

Latest Growing Up in Ireland research found that most children watch television or videos throughout the week and 15% spent two hours or more watching TV or DVDs on a weekday.

Almost one in ten (9%) spent more than two hours on other types of screen-based activities on a weekday.

Senator Noone said the age at which children start using smart devices is getting younger, with many two-year-olds spending up to two hours a day on devices.

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