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Q: I heard a report on the news that too much time in front of TV or computer screens can raise kids’ blood pressure. Is that just for more action-oriented shows and games? And is even a little screen time a problem for kids’ hearts?
Boggled by Blood Pressure in Providence, RI

A: Dear Boggled by Blood Pressure,

I get a lot of questions about how media affect the social health of kids and teens, but rarely get questions about physical health.  I'm going to grab my stethoscope so I can step up the Doctor part of being The Mediatrician!

You probably heard about about the relationship between the amount of time kids use screen media and their blood pressure because of a new study that was released. Researchers measured kids' resting blood pressure (while they were sitting in a chair), their height and weight, determined how active the kids were by having the kids carry an accelerometer (like a pedometer), and asked their parents how much time the kids typically used screen media (TV, video games, and computers). 

The researchers found that kids who used screen media for more hours had higher resting blood pressure than kids who used them for fewer hours.  Interestingly, this blood pressure difference was entirely accounted for by TV time – there was no significant difference with computer use. Although blood pressure normally increases in response to activity, and one can assume that it would increase more with active video games than with inactive ones, this study only measured baseline blood pressure with the child at rest. The child’s overall activity level also had no effect on their blood pressure. Although blood pressure is definitely higher in overweight kids, and the risk of overweight increases the more they use screens, the increase in blood pressure with greater TV time was found regardless of child’s weight.    

The good news is that kids’ bodies are quite resilient, so having high blood pressure is generally not a problem in the short term. What is a problem is having consistently high blood pressure over years. That can lead to stiffening blood vessels, which means the heart has to work harder to pump blood through the body.  In other words, small amounts of screen time won’t hurt your child, but large amounts over years might contribute to poorer health in the long term. Ultimately, this research should be seen as just another of several reasons why limiting screen time to the AAP limit of 1-2 hours a day remains a reasonable guideline.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
The Mediatrician

3 Responses to “Does spending time in front of screens really raise kids’ blood pressure?”

  1. Anonymous

    This is interesting. In doing research on cardiovascular disease ie high blood pressure, I came across research stating that cardiovascular disease begins in childhood. Now we are learning that it’s not just the food that we eat that is causing the problem but it is also the junk being fed to our minds! Thanks for the information.

    Reply
  2. Rachel Carter

    None of these topics really cover the real cause of high blood pressure. the real culprit of hypertension is the breakage of too many blood capillaries. This happens when the brain released too many electrolytes in the body to flush out the toxins from your system in the form of sweat. For a healthy person the normal amount of sweat is okay. But if a person who doesn’t practice healthy living, his body sends a signal to the brain to release more sweat to clean the toxins from his system. This oversupply of electrolytes strains the capillaries causing it to break. And this leads to hypertension.

    Reply
  3. Thomas Kooning

    This a good warning for all of us. I am convinced that videgames and the like increase stress levels even in children, the problem is that this will most likely go unnoticed in terms of linking it to high blood pressure. Call me old fashioned but I think children should play and use their creativity, away from the screens, at least for some of their entertainment time. Thank you for the post, Regards, Thomas

    Reply

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