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Contributor: Staff at McCallum Place
In today’s world, it’s difficult to get away from screens, with TVs, iPads, computers, video games, and phones all within reach. Experts have long studied the effects of screen time, especially on children, suspecting a link between screen time and poor development. Now, a new study shows an alarming link between screen time and binge eating.
Understanding Binge-Eating Disorder
Binge-eating disorder is the most common type of eating disorder in the United States . Those who have binge-eating disorder consume large amounts of food in a short period, often to the point of feeling uncomfortably full. This type of eating can lead to feelings of guilt and shame and a loss of control. Because of these feelings, those who binge eat may begin hiding food and isolating themselves to eat in secret.
Like other eating disorder behaviors, binge eating is associated with negative self-image and body dysmorphia. Those who have binge-eating disorder often over-consume food in an attempt to cope with negative feelings about themselves, the stress of daily life, and other worries. The symptoms of binge-eating disorder can be difficult to control and increase the risk for other mental health concerns.
Studying the Risks of Screen Time Among Children
While eating disorders like binge-eating disorder don’t typically develop in childhood, increased screen time among children could be causing an earlier diagnosis.
One study found that children in the U.S. between the ages of nine and 11 who participated in more screen time were at a higher risk for binge-eating disorder just one year later . The study also found that for each hour spent on social media, the child had a 62% higher risk for binge-eating disorder a year later. Each hour spent watching television or movies also caused a 39% higher risk .
While today’s children and adolescents have always enjoyed screen time, the use of screens has inevitably increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many students had extended time off from school, attended virtual classes, and spent much more time at home. This has led to more children being at risk for binge eating associated with screen time.
How Screen Time Can Lead to Binge Eating
Experts say that eating when in front of a screen can lead to unhealthy relationships with food for children. “Children may be more prone to overeating while distracted in front of screens. They may also be exposed to more food advertisements on television,” said study author Dr. Jason Nagata .
While television is one form of screen time that may be contributing to the development of binge-eating disorder, the main culprit seems to be social media. Social media is full of altered images that set unrealistic expectations for how the body should look. When adolescents consume too much of these images, they are at risk for developing a negative body image early on that can fuel eating disorder habits later in life, including those of binge-eating disorder.
How to Prevent Binge-Eating Disorder
Left untreated, binge-eating disorder can lead to serious health concerns like heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Those who have binge-eating disorder are also at a greater risk for co-occurring mental health concerns like depression and anxiety .
Parents can help prevent the risk for binge-eating disorder among children and adolescents by monitoring their screen time and food consumption. They can do this by eliminating distractions like TV and phones during mealtime and strongly discouraging eating while in front of a screen.
Eating disorders can be dangerous if left untreated. If you notice yourself or your child struggling with the symptoms of binge-eating disorder, help is available.
References: Pugle, M. (2021, April 14). What Is Binge Eating Disorder? Verywell Health. https://www.verywellhealth.com/binge-eating-disorder-5105084  Nagata, J.M., Iyer, P., Chu, J., et al. Contemporary screen time modalities among children 9–10 years old and binge-eating disorder at one-year follow-up: A prospective cohort study. International Journal of Eating Disorders. 2021; 54: 887– 892. https://doi.org/10.1002/eat.23489  American Association for the Advancement of Science. (2021, March 1). Excessive social media use linked to binge eating in US preteens [Press release]. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-03/uot-esm030121.php
About The Sponsor
McCallum Place is an eating disorder treatment center with locations in St. Louis, Missouri, and Kansas City, Kansas. We provide comprehensive treatment for adolescents and adults. We also offer a specialty treatment program for athletes who are living with eating disorders. Our experienced treatment team works closely with each patient to ensure that they play a central role in their recovery process. We offer a full range of services to meet the unique needs of each patient and address all issues related to the treatment of eating disorders.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published June 18, 2021 on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on June 18, 2021, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC