Wired: Screen Time Linked To Greater Caffeine, Sugar Consumption Among Teens

HAMILTON, Ontario — You would be hard pressed to find a teenager these days without a smartphone or tablet by their side at all hours of the day. Electronic devices are a seemingly unavoidable fact of life in modern society, especially for young people who have never known a world without iPhones and the like. Simultaneously, many adolescents are consuming far more than the recommended amounts of caffeine of sugar each and every day. Interestingly, researchers from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada say that these two trends are connected: teens who spend more time watching TV and browsing the web are also very likely to consume excessive amounts of sugared or caffeinated drinks.

According to researchers, recent data actually indicates that overall consumption of caffeine among adolescents is trending down, but teens who report frequent use of electronic devices are drinking more coffee, energy drinks, soda, etc. For their research, the study’s authors examined 32,418 American students in eighth or tenth grade.

“There is a trend towards reduced energy drink and soda consumption between 2013 and 2016 which is our latest data, but greater electronic device use, particularly TV, is linked to more consumption of added sugar and caffeine among adolescents,” explains study leader and pediatrician Dr. Katherine Morrison in a release. “Addressing this through counseling or health promotion could potentially help.”

Drinking an extra coffee or energy drink may not sound like such a big deal at first, but both sugary and artificially sweetened drinks are associated with a greater risk of diabetes, obesity, dental problems, and sleep loss. Furthermore, too much caffeine can cause headaches, nausea, high blood pressure, and chest pain, among other problems. Frequent excessive consumption of these beverages can potentially wreak havoc on young peoples’ bodies and mental states. That’s why both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Pediatric Society strongly recommend that physicians, parents, and teachers do everything they can to educate adolescents on the dangers of overconsumption.

Researchers discovered that over 27% of teens consume more than the recommended amount of sugar, and 21% drink too much caffeine, mostly from energy drinks and soda. Boys tend to drink more caffeine than girls, and eighth graders drink more caffeine and sugar than tenth graders.

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Just one extra hour of TV per day was associated with a 32% higher risk of exceeding the World Health Organization’s daily sugar recommendations. Similarly, each extra hour of TV was also linked to a 28% higher chance of exceeding WHO caffeine recommendations. And each extra hour of social media or time spent talking on the phone was also associated with an increased risk of consuming more sugar and caffeine.

Surprisingly, playing video games, an activity often associated with staying up late and drinking caffeine in popular culture, was only marginally linked to increased caffeine consumption.

“Given the marketing campaigns that target video gamers, we expected a particularly strong association between caffeine intake from energy drinks or sodas with video game use, but TV was linked more strongly,” Dr. Morrison says.

However, using a computer or other electronic device for school work was not linked to greater caffeine or sugar consumption. In fact, these instances were actually linked to a lower likelihood of drinking excessive sugar.

The study is published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.

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