We already know that too much screen time is bad for our health: Studies have shown that watching TV and reading e-books can cut into our sleep. Plus, phones can hurt our posture, balance, and even relationships. But now, new research suggests that children who spend too many hours parked in front of a screen may be at risk for developing high blood pressure.
Researchers from the Universities of Zaragoza and São Paulo took data from more than 16,000 children between the ages of two and nine. They examined their blood pressure and TV-watching habits, and found that those who watched more than two hours daily saw a rise in blood pressure after just two years. The study, published in the International Journal of Cardiology, concluded that patterns of sedentary behavior (think watching TV, playing video games, or surfing the web for hours) may increase the risk of high blood pressure in children by 30 percent.
High blood pressure, no matter when it develops, can lead to a host of problems later in life, including, heart attacks, heart disease, strokes, and kidney damage. Healthy blood pressure should be under 120/80 mmHg. Anything between 120 and 139 falls into the prehypertension, and 140 and above means high blood pressure. Those with blood pressure over 159/80 mmHg—called stage 2 high blood pressure—are especially at risk of developing serious health problems.
To maintain healthy blood pressure, regardless of age, stay active. Children should be active for a full hour each day, according to the NIH. For adults, the CDC recommends taking a brisk 10-minute walk three times a day, five days per week. Smoking also increases your risk of high blood pressure, as do high-sodium, high-fat, and high-cholesterol diets. Luckily, many foods can help maintain healthy blood pressure levels. Blueberries, yogurt, and beets are all heart-healthy foods.
Both adults and children can benefit by healthy changes in diet and exercise amount. So the next time your child wants to plop down in front of the TV, suggest he or she actively plays instead. Their hearts will thank you.