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No more than two hours of screen a day for children’s brains

The study showed that only 36% of children met the recommendations for screen time. Photo: iStock
The study showed that only 36% of children met the recommendations for screen time. Photo: iStock

Young people who spend more than two hours a day in front of screens have lower cognitive abilities than those whose exposure is more limited, say Canadian researchers from Ottawa and Carleton universities.

Dr. Jeremy Walsh and his colleagues analyzed data from the 10-year Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development observational study that examined the brain development of 4520 9- and 10-year-old Americans in 20 regions of the country.

On average, these children spent 3.6 hours per day in front of a screen (mobile phone, tablet, computer, television), which is well beyond the Canadian 24-hour Movement Guidelines which are:

  • less than 2 hours of screen;
  • 9 to 11 hours of sleep;
  • at least one hour of physical activity per day

Researchers therefore observed children’s cognition in relation to their levels of physical activity, leisure time spent in front of a screen, and sleep time. Cognition was measured by taking into account language skills, episodic memory, executive function, attention, working memory, and processing speed.

Did you know?

American pediatricians recommend not to put a child in front of the television before the age of 18 months.

The results

Children aged 9 and 10 whose lifestyle matched the physical activity, screen time and sleep recommendations of the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines had superior overall cognition.

We have clearly seen the importance of each hour of a day for the cognitive health of children.

Dr. Jeremy Walsh, lead author of the study

“The greatest benefits for cognition were observed in children who met screen time and sleep recommendations or recommendations for screen time alone,” says the physician.

However, the researchers say that children who met a high number of recommendations had superior overall cognition.

Lifestyles to change

The study found that only half of the children met sleep recommendations, 36% recommended screen time and only 17% recommended physical activity.

Changes in children’s lifestyle toward low levels of physical activity, falling sleep hours, and the omnipresence of screens can pose a threat to cognitive development.

Dr. Mark Tremblay, University of Ottawa

The details of this study are published in  The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health .

About the author

Coleen Baker

Coleen Baker

Thirty-something coffee-addict and mother to three dogs, who lives and breathes all things gambling. I've had an interesting career since leaving school; from serving baguettes to supplying gambling content for companies around the globe. I also take a great interest in world politics.

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