From TVs to Tablets: The Relation between Device-Specific Screen Time and Health-Related Behaviors and Characteristics

BMC Public Health 20 (20):1295 (2020)
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Background The purpose of this study was to examine whether extended use of a variety of screen-based devices, in addition to television, was associated with poor dietary habits and other health-related characteristics and behaviors among US adults. The recent phenomenon of binge-watching was also explored. Methods A survey to assess screen time across multiple devices, dietary habits, sleep duration and quality, perceived stress, self-rated health, physical activity, and body mass index, was administered to a sample of US adults using the Qualtrics platform and distributed via Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk). Participants were adults 18 years of age and older, English speakers, current US residents, and owners of a television and at least one other device with a screen. Three different screen time categories (heavy, moderate, and light) were created for total screen time, and separately for screen time by type of screen, based on distribution tertiles. Kruskal-Wallis tests were conducted to examine differences in dietary habits and health-related characteristics between screen time categories. Results Aggregate screen time across all devices totaled 17.5 h per day for heavy users. Heavy users reported the least healthful dietary patterns and the poorest health-related characteristics – including self-rated health – compared to moderate and light users. Moreover, unique dietary habits emerged when examining dietary patterns by type of screen separately, such that heavy users of TV and smartphone displayed the least healthful dietary patterns compared to heavy users of TV-connected devices, laptop, and tablet. Binge-watching was also significantly associated with less healthy dietary patterns, including frequency of fast-food consumption as well as eating family meals in front of a television, and perceived stress. Conclusions The present study found that poorer dietary choices, as well as other negative health-related impacts, occurred more often as the viewing time of a variety of different screen-based devices increased in a sample of US adults. Future research is needed to better understand what factors among different screen-based devices might affect health behaviors and in turn health-related outcomes. Research is also required to better understand how binge-watching behavior contributes impacts health-related behaviors and characteristics.

Author's Profile

C. Tyler DesRoches
Arizona State University


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