The age of the TV brought with it the TV dinner — a fast, convenient meal that, while nutritionally questionable, enabled the whole family to come together on the sofa to enjoy “The Ed Sullivan Show” and eat their Swanson Salisbury steak, too.
Over the last several decades, advancements in technology and the invention of streaming services created the binge-watching culture.
Chris Wharton, Assistant dean of invention and strategic initiatives in Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions, whose research interests include lifestyle wide behavior change, wanted to know what type of relationship time we invest in front of displays has with different health behavior
“A lot of screen time-related literature has primarily focused on television,” Wharton said. “But with the advancement of all these other types of devices that people use throughout the day, we wanted to see how health behaviors and factors are associated with a variety of screen-based devices.”
In a study Recently published in BMC Public Health, among the biggest open access public health journals in the world, Wharton found that heavy users of screens — defined as those who use displays an average of 17.5 hours each day — reported that the least healthful dietary patterns and the weakest health-related characteristics in comparison with moderate and light users, who averaged approximately 11.3 and 7 hours of display use every day, respectively.
“Lots of display time-related literature has primarily focused on “But with the progress of all these additional types of devices that people use throughout the day, we wanted to see how health behaviors and variables are associated with many different screen-based apparatus”
For the study, over 900 adults across the U.S. who owned a TV and at least another device with a display were asked to complete a questionnaire to assess screen time use across multiple devices, dietary habits, sleep length and quality, perceived stress, self-rated wellness, physical activity and body mass index.
One of the findings, unique dietary habits were associated with different kinds of display use for example heavy users of TV and smartphones displayed the least healthful dietary patterns in comparison with heavy users of TV-connected devices, laptops and tablets.
“I find that important and interesting because it does back up what we understand about smartphones,” Wharton said. “We love to look at our phones and worry ourselves with the news right before we go to bed. But one of the simplest things people can do for their health when it comes to screens — which is probably one of the hardest things to do because of the convenience and their addictive nature — is putting all those devices down, in particular your smartphone, two hours before bedtime.”
Wharton also explored the phenomenon of binge-watching, defined as seeing numerous episodes of a television program in one sitting, and found that it was significantly associated with less healthy dietary patterns, including frequency of food consumption, eating family meals before a TV.
“We’re engaging with networking in lots of different ways, also in cellular Hence the convenience of (screen use) appears to be linked to the ease of fast food.”
That is, with the exception of laptops, which Wharton features to The likelihood that laptops are more often employed for work than amusement.
Wharton said the results of this study lay the basis for future Research into display time interventions since they provide scientists insight into which unwanted health effects are associated with which types of devices.
“When we look at interventions to help people eat more healthfully, as it relates to screen time, maybe we can’t just focus on television. The smartphone might be another really important factor in that,” he said. “Or if we want to improve physical activity, maybe we don’t need to think about smartphones but we do need think about TVs.”
In a different study, now pending publication, Wharton requested 10 Participants to forgo screen usage of any sort in the time they got home after work to the time that they proceeded to sleep for two weeks straight.
“We have some qualitative data to suggest that when people eliminate screens from their lives at night, magical things happen,” he said. “Initial results suggest that people have to figure out what to do with this time, so they’re doing things like spending more face-to-face with family and friends, cooking and preparing food, being physically active and engaging in hobbies. Things that are fulfilling in physically healthful ways and mentally healthful ways that you don’t get when the majority of your day is engaged with screens.”
Wharton himself has been making an effort to be especially conscious of his screen time use throughout the pandemic (he has even taken up the violin), a time when many of us are hearing precisely the contrary message.
“I worry when people say, ‘Now is the time to re-up your Netflix subscription. What else are you going to do?'” Wharton said. “I would flip that on its head and say, ‘Oh my gosh, now is the time to think about all the things to do other than sit in front of screens.’