Curb kids' screen time to stave off major health and developmental problems

October 9, 2012

Curbs on children's daily screen time and delaying the age at which they start "the world's favorite pastime" are urgently needed to stave off the risk of serious health and developmental problems, argues a leading psychologist and child health expert in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

In the face of mounting evidence, doctors' leaders and government should take a stand and set clear guidelines on an activity that has so far eluded the scrutiny that other health issues attract, argues Dr Aric Sigman.

Children of all ages are watching more screen media than ever before, he says, and what is more, they are starting earlier and earlier.

Britain's children have regular access to an average of five different screens at home by the time they are 10 years old, in the form of TVs, , , laptops and tablets.

By the age of 7, a child born today will have spent one full year of 24 hour days watching screens, rising to three full days by the time s/he is 18, he says.

On average, British teens clock up six hours' screen time a day at home, while North American children manage almost eight hours, he says. Yet research suggests that the negative impacts on health and wellbeing kick in after just two hours.

Dr Sigman cites a litany of published studies showing links between prolonged screen time and ill health, including increased risks of markers for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, as well as other associated with being sedentary that exercise does not seem to reverse.

Furthermore, viewing screen media is physiologically distinct from other forms of sedentary behaviour, with screen time increasingly considered an in its own right, he says.

Besides increasing the risk of obesity, prompted not only by inactivity, but also the disruption of food and hunger cues, prolonged screen time seems to reduce because of its effects on the .

Dopamine has a key role in the ability to pay attention, and is produced in response to "screen novelty," says Dr Sigman. It is also a key component of the brain's reward system and implicated in addictive behaviour.

"Screen 'addiction' is increasingly being used by physicians to describe the growing number of children engaging in screen activities in a dependent manner," he says.

And there are other psychosocial problems associated with excess screen time, including "Facebook depression," reported by the American Academy of Pediatrics; an increased risk of disengagement and vulnerability to victimisation after high levels of screen time in early childhood; poor social skills; and an impaired ability to express empathy.

"Perhaps because screen time is not a dangerous substance or a visibly risky activity, it has eluded the scrutiny that other health issues attract," he says.

Some countries have started to take the issue on board, notably the US, Canada, and Australia, he says. But he adds: "To date, views of the British and European medical establishments on increasingly high levels of child screen time remain conspicuous by their absence."

He lists a raft of often relatively simple measures that could make a difference, including limiting screen time and delaying screen viewing until the age of 3.

"Many questions remain regarding the precise nature of the association between screen time and adverse outcomes," he admits. But he concludes: "The advice from a growing number of both researchers and medical associations and government departments elsewhere is becoming unequivocal: reduce ."

Explore further: TV time: Why children watch multi-screens

More information: www.adc.com/lookup/doi/10.1136 … dischild-2012-302196

Related Stories

TV time: Why children watch multi-screens

August 3, 2011
New research published in BioMed Central's open access journal, International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, examines the relationship children have with electronic viewing devices and their habits ...

Child obesity expert explains why epidemic isn't going away anytime soon

April 11, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Approximately 20 percent of adolescents in the U.S. today are obese or overweight. With the number of obese and overweight younger children close behind, this epidemic has lasting implications for the ...

Recommended for you

Breathing dirty air may harm kidneys, study finds

September 21, 2017
Outdoor air pollution has long been linked to major health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. A new study now adds kidney disease to the list, according to ...

Being active saves lives whether a gym workout, walking to work or washing the floor

September 21, 2017
Physical activity of any kind can prevent heart disease and death, says a large international study involving more than 130,000 people from 17 countries published this week in The Lancet.

Excess dietary manganese promotes staph heart infection

September 21, 2017
Too much dietary manganese—an essential trace mineral found in leafy green vegetables, fruits and nuts—promotes infection of the heart by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus ("staph").

Frequent blood donations safe for some, but not all

September 21, 2017
(HealthDay)—Some people may safely donate blood as often as every eight weeks—but that may not be a healthy choice for all, a new study suggests.

Higher manganese levels in children correlate with lower IQ scores, study finds

September 21, 2017
A study led by environmental health researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine finds that children in East Liverpool, Ohio with higher levels of Manganese (Mn) had lower IQ scores. The research appears ...

Higher levels of fluoride in pregnant woman linked to lower intelligence in their children

September 20, 2017
Fluoride in the urine of pregnant women shows a correlation with lower measures of intelligence in their children, according to University of Toronto researchers who conducted the first study of its kind and size to examine ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.