Leisure Time Computer Use and Overweight Development in Young Adults – A Prospective Study

Sara Thomée; Lauren Lissner; Mats Hagberg; Anna Grimby-Ekman


BMC Public Health. 2015;15(839) 

In This Article


The prevalence of overweight among Swedish young adults has nearly doubled since the 1980s.[1] Weight has increased in all age groups, but the increase has been largest among those under 50. This development has been paralleled by the increased use of computers at work, at school and at leisure. In 2013 it was estimated that nearly all 16–24 year old Swedes used computers, and 83 % did so on a daily basis.[2] Social media use on the internet has become a dominating activity. In 2014, 16–25 year olds spent an average of 7.6 h per week on social media (Facebook being the most popular social networking site).[3] Although women are generally more active in social networking on the internet, there are no major gender differences in how often e.g. email and chatrooms are used.[3] Computer gaming is another dominating leisure time activity. In 2013, about half of Swedish adolescents aged 17–18 played computer or video games at least weekly, and 20 % did so on a daily basis.[4] Computer gaming decreases with age, but there is reason to believe that it will become more and more common among adults as the young gamers grow up to become adult gamers.[5] There are clear gender differences in gaming, with males playing more than females, although female participation in gaming is increasing.[6] For example, the proportion of high consumers of computer games (>3 h daily) was almost 6 times higher among 17–18 year old boys compared to girls (35 % vs 6 %).[4] The difference was even larger among 13–16 year olds (44 % vs 2 %).

Several studies have shown that screen time is associated with higher BMI or overweight in children and adolescents.[7–17] Time spent on television viewing has often been found to be a risk factor for increased weight (e.g.[8,12,15–17]), while there are fewer and less conclusive studies examining computer use. A review by Rey-Lopez et al.[16] found some positive associations between computer use and overweight, but no longitudinal associations that could confirm computer use as a risk factor for weight gain. Falbe et al.[8] found longitudinal associations between digital game playing (computer and video) and BMI increase among girls. In another longitudinal study,[13] computer time predicted changes in BMI in boys. Among the cross-sectional studies, Arora et al.[14] found associations between computer use at bedtime and BMI in adolescents, while Kautiainen et al.[12] found associations between time spent on the computer for emailing, writing and surfing the internet and overweight in girls (and similar but non-significant results for boys), but not for time spent on digital games (computer, video or consoles).

There seem to be relatively few studies on the effects of computer use in adult populations. A systematic review of factors associated with sedentary behaviors[18] showed some evidence that screen time, mainly television viewing is related to BMI, even in adults. Only four of the more than 100 included studies examined computer use in this regard and the results were inconclusive; two cross-sectional studies showed a relationship with higher BMI. Furthermore, Vandelanotte et al.[19] found cross-sectional associations between leisure time internet and computer use and overweight and obesity in a study of Australian adults, and, Heinonen et al.[20] found associations between computer use and BMI and waist circumference in women, in a study of Finns aged 30–45.

There is an apparent lack of studies on the effect of computer use on weight in young adults. Young adulthood is a key age to develop and maintain healthy behaviors, as for example overweight in youth tends to follow into adulthood.[1,21] Hence, it is important for longitudinal studies to examine the potential impact the vast use of computers in this age group may have on overweight development.


The aim was to examine the relation between leisure time computer use for gaming and for emailing/chatting with overweight development in young adults.