QNRF Newsletter Archive

Internet use, obesity and low vision

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Spending excessive time in front of TV and computer screens is linked to both obesity and low vision.
Since the introduction of television and other forms of mass communication, such as the internet, concerns have been raised throughout the world for their impact on people's lifestyles. Of particular concern has been the influence of such technologies on the lives of vulnerable groups such as children. It has been shown in numerous studies that time spent by children at TV/computer screens, in association with sedentary lifestyle habits, greatly increases the risk of obesity. However, very little work has been done on the impact of this phenomenon on low vision.

A QNRF-funded project, involving participants from Hamad Medical Corporation, Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar and the University of Westminster in London, examined a sample of 2,467 schoolchildren in Qatar to determine how prolonged hours in front of TV and computer screens affected levels of obesity and low vision. The students, aged 6-18 years, were interviewed face-to-face to complete a specially-designed questionnaire. Eye examinations were carried out using a slit lamp, and visual acuity with a Tumbling E chart at a distance of 6 metres.

The results revealed several disturbing factors, showing that children in Qatar are no exception to global trends in this area. The highest proportion of obese children were in the 15-18 years age range, spent over 3 hours per day on the internet and between 5-6 hours sleeping. Almost 2 percent of children spent over 3 hours per day on the internet, were overweight or obese and had low vision. Moreover 15.6 percent and 7.6 percent of children who ate fast food on a daily basis were either overweight or obese, respectively.

The most worrying trend is that the majority of the overweight and obese children were in the 15-18 years age range. Their poor lifestyle habits are likely to continue into adulthood which means they are more likely to acquire chronic disease and become a burden on the healthcare services for the rest of their lives. Chronic diseases are health problems that last up to a year or more, restrict activities, and require special healthcare services or medicines on a regular basis.

Some findings reinforced previous studies, showing that spending over 4 hours at a screen each day significantly increases the chances of the subject becoming obese. Obese children also slept significantly less then the recommended nine hours per night.

It was clear that a significant proportion of those with low vision were spending more than 3 hours on the computer and 3 hours reclining each day. Whether children with low vision were choosing to spend time indoors, or that spending prolonged hours in front of a screen affected the children's vision, will have to be determined by further studies. It was a similar story with the link between low vision, fast food consumption and a high body mass index (BMI). Although children with low vision were more likely to be obese, it was impossible to determine the direction of causation.

Frequent screening of children for vision problems is recommended, especially as children are exposed to TV and computer screens at earlier ages for prolonged hours. Low vision is also associated with excessive internet use and high BMIs and could be an important factor in designing public health iniatives.

UREP 06-022-3-010 (6th cycle)
Effect of television viewing and video games on Youth: Obesity, Physical Actvity and Poor Vision
PFM Name: Prof. Abdulbari Bener
Submitting Institution: Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar
Collaborative Institutions: Hamad Medical Corporation
Link to project on QNRF website. 
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