Undernutrition and Obesity In Kids and Teens: Is Technology A Cause

Child with tablet on sofa at home

The prevalence of obesity and undernutrition in children is a cause for concern; around 17% of US children between the ages of 2 and 19 are clinically obese, and approximately 13% of US children are considered to be malnourished. Although obesity rates among preschoolers have been falling in recent years, overweight children are five times more likely to become obese adults, putting them at risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and many other diseases which may require diagnosis and treatment by a primary care physician.

At the other end of the scale, undernutrition in children can cause stunting of physical growth and cognitive development issues; undernutrition can prevent children from reaching their full potential, and leave them more vulnerable to infectious disease. (1)(2)(3)

Technology is thought by some to be a contributing factor for childhood weight issues; here, we explore the link between some common child entertainment technologies and weight impacts:

The rise of social media, where people can present a heavily curated impression of their ‘perfect’ life, is thought by some to have a negative impact on children’s self-esteem. A 2011 study carried out by the University of Haifa found that higher levels of social media exposure contributed to increased rates of eating disorders and body image issues in young women. Researchers reported that the more time which young women spent on Facebook, the more likely they were to experience anorexia, bulimia, and unhealthy relationships with food. Clinically integrated networks can help determine an appropriate holistic treatment by connecting patients and their parents with a network of doctors in different fields. (4)

While video game addiction is thought by some to contribute to various physical and mental health issues in young people, the scientific community is conflicted about whether this is an accurate assessment. More study is needed to conclude whether video games are addictive or a legitimate health concern; however, some studies have shown tentative causation between video games and weight issues in children. The results of a Swiss study published in the Obesity Research journal indicated that for each hour a child spent playing video games, the likelihood that they were obese allegedly doubled. A recent review of 26 studies examining the link between video games and obesity reported that while 14 studies concluded no association between video games and obesity, 12 studies reported finding a link. Further research is required in this area. (5)(6)(7)

Doctor measuring overweight boy in clinic

Links have been suggested between childhood obesity and excessive screen-time; however, no findings thus far are compelling enough to be conclusive. The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that the average US child spends more than seven hours per day in front of screens, including televisions, tablets and phones. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology reported that children who spend more time using screens were likely to snack more frequently, and on less healthy options than their more active counterparts. While no studies have yet reported a definitive link between screen-time and obesity, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children limit screen-time to two hours per day. (8)

Known causes of childhood obesity and undernutrition

As the links between technology and childhood weight concerns remain largely unproven, it is perhaps more important to understand the known causes of weight issues in children:

While some research has demonstrated alleged correlations between childhood obesity or undernourishment and technology-use, the results are not conclusive enough to confirm a definite cause. It’s entirely possible that the use of technology is a contributing factor to childhood weight concerns; however, it would be irresponsible to state that it’s a cause.

By ensuring that children are experiencing good mental health, are free of disease, and eating a balanced, appropriate diet, we may ensure that they have the best possible chance at achieving and maintaining an ideal weight.


  1. “Obesity Facts In America”, Source: https://www.healthline.com/health/obesity-facts#:~:text=of%20adults%20are%20obese.%20Another%2032.5%20percent%20of,American%20children.%20One%20in%208%20preschoolers%20is%20obese.
  2. “Utilization of Current Diagnostic Indicators to Characterize Pediatric Undernutrition among US Children”, Source: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32422888/
  3. “Understanding The True Cost Of Malnutrition”, Source: http://www.fao.org/zhc/detail-events/en/c/238389/
  4. “Does Social Media Cause Eating Disorders In Children?”, Source: https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/blog/social-media-cause-eating-disorders-children
  5. “Video Game Addiction Symptoms And Treatment”, Source: https://americanaddictioncenters.org/video-gaming-addiction
  6. “Video Games, TV Double Childhood Obesity Risk”, Source: https://www.webmd.com/parenting/news/20040702/video-games-tv-double-childhood-obesity-risk#:~:text=Researchers%20found%20that%20each%20hour%20the%20children%20played,outside%20the%20home%20or%20a%20father%20who%20smoked.
  7. “Video Games, Obesity, And Children”, Source: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32077041/
  8. “Obesity In Children And Technology”, Source: https://howtoadult.com/obesity-in-children-and-technology-3806339.html
  9. “What Are The Causes Of Underweight Children?”, Source: https://healthfully.com/what-are-the-causes-of-underweight-children-5570098.html
  10. “Child Poverty Statistics In The U.S.”, Source: https://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/43-children-in-poverty-100-percent-poverty#detailed/1/any/false/1729,37,871,870,573,869,36,868,867,133/any/321,322

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