Does spending time in front of screens really raise kids’ blood pressure?

Does spending time in front of screens really raise kids’ blood pressure? 150 150 Mediatrics

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