Physician

U.S. Study Finds that Children Who Have More Screen Time are Likely to Develop Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder (BED) is a life-threatening, severe, and treatable type of feeding and eating disorder. It affects almost 2% of people worldwide and can cause additional health issues linked to diet, such as high cholesterol levels and diabetes. People with BED often experience feelings of extreme unhappiness and distress about their overeating, body shape, and weight. BED is characterized by repeated episodes of uncontrolled intake of unusually large amounts of food in a short period of time. These episodes are accompanied by feelings of guilt, shame, and psychological distress. A variety of genetic, environmental, social, and psychological risks are associated with BED. Historically, BED has been linked to increased risk of weight gain and obesity, as well as associated diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Other health risks include sleep problems, chronic pain, mental health problems, and reduced quality of life.

To be diagnosed with BED, a person must have had at least one binge eating episode per week for a minimum of three months. The severity ranges from mild, which is characterized by one to three binge eating episodes per week, to extreme, which is characterized by 14 or more episodes per week. Unlike bulimia, a person with BED does not throw up, take laxatives, or over-exercise to try and counteract a binging episode.

The Covid-19 pandemic has not only made life worse for eating disorder sufferers -- it has heightened screen time for adults and children alike. While the downfalls of excessive screen time have been well-documented, a recent study published in The International Journal of Eating Disorders just identified another possible risk.

According to the study, children between the ages of 9 and 11 in the United States who have more screen time are more likely to develop BED one year later. Not surprisingly, the main culprit was social media. The study found that each hour spent on social media was linked to a 62% higher risk of BED one year later, while each hour spent watching television or movies was linked with a 39% higher risk.

Experts suggest that parents can help reduce screen time in young children and thereby minimize the risk of developing BED by doing the following:

  • Parents should not allow, or strongly discourage, eating meals or snacks while children are on a screen or device.
  • Parents should not allow screen time within an hour of bedtime. Screens or devices should not be in children’s bedrooms.
  • Most importantly, parents should model these tips and model healthy relationships with food.

While there is no single treatment for BED, getting help early makes it more likely that a child can get better before there are serious health consequences. Eating disorders are often addressed with a multi-faceted approach that often includes a combination of:

  • Individual psychotherapy or “talk therapy”
  • Family therapy
  • Nutrition counseling
  • Dual diagnosis treatment
  • Medication
  • Residential treatment
  • Hospitalization

If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder and you are being denied benefits by your insurance, please call Kantor & Kantor for a free consultation at 800-446-7529. We understand, and we can help.

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