Too much screen time, too little horseplay for kids

A young child playing with a tablet device

According to Dr. Shawna Newman, an attending psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, the study "clearly demonstrates the specific benefit of exercise for children, in addition to that of good sleep hygiene and the limitation of screen time contributing positively to cognitive development".

Walsh and his team looked at data - based on detailed questionnaires - for 4,520 children spread across 20 locations in the United States.

The study found that children of 8-11 years old spend an average of 3.6 hours every day in front of the TV, mobile phone, tablet, or computer screen.

Nearly one in three children (29% - 1,330/4,520) met none of the guidelines, 41% (1,845/4,520) met only one, 25% (1,129/4,520) met two, and 5% (216/4,520) met all three recommendations.

Half of the children got the recommended 9 to 11 hours of sleep, 37 percent met the screen time guideline of less than two hours, and 18 percent got an hour or more of exercise. Children also completed a cognition test, which assessed language abilities, episodic memory, executive function, attention, working memory and processing speed.

To improve children's cognitive skills such as problem solving, memory and attention, their screen time should be limited to less than two hours a day.

Although the report was focused on children in the US, Walsh says the findings could be applicable in any country.

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The National Institutes of Health has funded researchers to track the biological and behavioral development of children through adolescence, tracking how childhood experiences such as sports, sleep patterns, social media, and video games influence a young person's life.

Provided they have sufficient sleep and physical activity. He warns that, in that sense, the new study's findings "are a potential canary in a coal mine".

Almost 30 per cent of children failed to meet any of the recommendations, more than 40 per cent met only one, a quarter met two, and only five per cent conformed to all three.

Researchers said more work was now needed to better understand the effects of different types of screen use. "In the case of evening screen use, this displacement may also be compounded by impairment of sleep quality", he said.

"Each minute spent on screens necessarily displaces a minute from sleep or cognitively challenging activities", Dr. Bustamante wrote in a commentary that accompanied the study.

The study concluded that the children's brain development was better with each guideline respected.

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