PHCC calls parents and families to monitor their children and teenagers screen time, stressing the impact of sedentary behaviors on the risk of metabolic syndrome especially during COVID-19 pandemic.
Published on March 2022 at “PLOS ONE” journal, a scientific study conducted by researchers from PHCC and HMC, indicated that public health measures related to COVID-19 pandemic including school closures, virtual learning and missed opportunities for physical education, have led to more than twofold increase in the use of digital screen devices in addition to physical inactivity, interrupted sleep pattern, increase caloric consumption, obesity and increased the risk of cardiometabolic vulnerability.
Dr. Sarah Musa, Community Medicine specialist, Wellness-In Charge at Rawdat Al-Khail Health Center and the principal investigator, explains that metabolic syndrome in childhood is a predictor of adulthood cardiometabolic risk and noncommunicable disease such as type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis, and hypertension. Lifestyle related factors including insufficient moderate to vigorous physical activity, low cardiopulmonary fitness, smoking, and sedentary behavior are main risk factors of metabolic syndrome in adolescents.
Findings from this study confirm that adolescents engaged in screen-based sedentary behavior including TV, computers or mobile devices have increased likelihood of developing metabolic syndrome and any increase in screen time (more than two hours/day) is associated with linear increase in the risk consequently, in which 5-6 hours/day implies the highest risk.
In this context and according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children and adolescents are urged to limit their daily recreational screen time to no more than two hours per day and be engaged in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day.
In terms of ways parent may adopt to limit their children and adolescents use of screen time, Dr. Sarah Musa pointed to the importance of a family-centered media use plan considering the lack of discipline and insight of these age groups toward limiting their screen use. Engaging adolescents, families, schools, and social workers in healthy lifestyle choices create an enabling environment to support behavioral change. Effective communication with adolescents and their families enhances digital literacy related to screen types, content, and setting screen limits.
Despite negative health outcomes, screen time may be advantageous if used appropriately particularly during COVID-19 times. Dr. Sarah Musa encourages parents to enhance effective use of technology, such as online physical activity classes, workout apps and active video games which are exciting gears that can provide alternative beneficial solutions. It is also vital to remember that setting goals and continue monitoring is very important to encourage adopting positive behaviors.
The findings of the study have implications for clinical practice to enhance screening of behavioral and metabolic risk factors among children and adolescents. Screening tools include physical activity, screen time, body mass index, and psychological assessment to identify modifiable risk factors and promote early identification and management. Accordingly, weight loss programs, exercise prescription and holistic counselling are implemented.
Evidence from this study guide national and public health efforts in planning accessible, cost-effective, multisectoral prevention and intervention strategies to tackle determinants of metabolic syndrome and noncommunicable disease at early stages such as sociodemographic attributes, accessibility, parents’ behavior, psychological, physical, activity and dietary behavior.