Cut down on your kids’ daily screen-time to boost brain function

A young child playing with a tablet device

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.

The study involved more than 4,500 USA children aged 8-11 years.

Writing in a linked comment, Dr Eduardo Esteban Bustamante, University of IL, said: "Each minute spent on screens necessarily displaces a minute from sleep or cognitively challenging activities".

These are 9-11 hours of sleep, less than two hours of recreational screen time, and at least an hour of physical activity every day.

In his commentary, Dr. Bustamante likens the problem of screen time to the challenge of the childhood obesity epidemic, and said that both have been propagated by their profitability to industry, convenience to parents, and pleasure for children.

Nearly a third of the American children are outside all three recommendations, shows the study published on 27 September 2018 in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.

"We know that the behaviors of physical activity, sleep and screen time can independently impact the cognitive health of a child".

Because of the excess screen time, researchers found that the children slept less and had seen a drop in cognitive skills (language abilities, memory, completing tasks). The authors note this was a surprising finding and may suggest that the measure used may not have been specific enough.

"I think that the overarching goal here is that parents should consider the whole 24-hour day of their children and put realistic rules or limits in place for how long they are on their screens for, having bedtime rules, and making sure to encourage physical activity", Walsh said.

Researchers found that children global cognition in children was positively associated with those who only spent two hours or less on screens.

"We really had an opportunity here to look at how meeting each of these guidelines and meeting all of the guidelines relate to cognition in a large sample of American children".

According to the study's authors, additional research is needed to better understand the effects of different kinds of screen time on cognition, and they point out that given the study's observational nature, it does not prove a causative link between screen time on cognition.

Dr Walsh concludes: "We found that more than two hours of recreational screen time in children was associated with poorer cognitive development". Google has also introduced new features to limit screen time and monitor use on Android devices.

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