Putting a screen in front of your child could be an easy way to get them out of your hair, but doing it too much could negatively affect their health as adults, according to a multi-decade study.
Researchers found time spent watching TV during childhood and adolescence was associated with a higher risk of metabolic syndrome, higher BMI values and lower cardiorespiratory fitness in mid-adult life. They also discovered adjusting TV viewing as an adult didn't help the negative health effects, supporting their hypothesis that excessive sedentary behaviors during childhood could have a greater influence on adult health than adult behaviors.
These results came from New Zealand children born in 1972 and 1973 and kept up with until they were age 45. Researchers checked in at certain ages — 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 32 and 45 — to ask about their TV viewing habits along with certain health measurements like activity level and BMI.
Once certain factors like socioeconomic status and sex were adjusted for, the primary outcome of excessive television between the ages of five and 15 was the presence of metabolic syndrome at age 45. This is defined as having three or more of certain cardiometabolic risk factors, like obesity, insulin resistance, hypertension and high blood pressure.
The observational study, which was published in the journal Pediatrics, can't prove there's an association between younger TV viewing and metabolic syndrome, but lead author Dr. Bob Hancox said there are multiple reasons the association could be true, like a lack of exercise from the sedentary nature of watching TV.
The study adds to other research also suggesting screen time can have a negative on a user's health.
In May, a report from neuroscience nonprofit Sapien Labs found overall mental wellbeing scores were consistently higher when a person got a smart phone at a relatively older age.
In 2019, one study found increased screen time for 2 and 3 year olds was associated with poorer performance on developmental screening tests. And the year before in 2018, researchers found excessive screen time in children and adolescents resulted in multiple negative physiological and psychological effects, including cardiovascular diseases, impaired vision, reduced bone density, depression and suicidal thoughts.
There isn't enough evidence to suggest what a fine amount of screen time would be, and the American Academy of Pediatrics has suggested there isn't a one size fits all approach. But it and other agencies discourage screens for kids under 2 and recommend older children only use screens for one to two hours per day.
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