So if weight gain in kids isn’t associated with low levels of physical activity, why is it that increased screen time is associated with increased weight?
A very cool small study out of Denmark and Quebec aimed to start answering that question and preliminary results were presented at last years Obesity Society Scientific Assembly.
Researchers took 22 healthy, normal weight teen males and they had them complete two separate experimental conditions. In the first they played a seated hour of video games and then ate lunch. In the second they simply sat for an hour before eating. With each experimental condition, the guys were allowed to eat as much lunch as they wanted.
When they played the video games they did indeed burn more calories than they did at rest (about 20 calories more) but interestingly they ate on average 80 more calories at lunch. Subjects denied increased feelings of hunger and they didn’t compensate for the increase in lunch calories by eating fewer later in the day.
So why does video game playing cause increased calorie consumption? Who knows? The researchers in this study speculated that perhaps it has something to do with either an impairment in satiety signaling post play or by means of impacting on their “mental-stress induced reward system”.
Whatever the cause of the increased intake, it’s yet another blow to the conventional dogma of a direct output related causal link between inactivity and childhood obesity. That’s not to say that decreasing screen time won’t help, just that it may help by decreasing intake rather than by increasing output and that fact in turn should be strongly considered when designed public policy or future research dealing with the problem of screen time and childhood obesity prevention and treatment.
Makes me wonder whether or not simple public health messaging and campaigns discouraging snacking while playing, and don’t game within an hour of meal time would have more of an impact (and be more readily adopted) than trying to discourage screen time altogether?