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Too much screen-based entertainment is bad for children
by Matthew - Monday, 6 December 2010, 10:22 AM
 

A new study shows that children who watch TV or play computer games for 2 hours or more a day are more likely than others to concentrate poorly, behave badly and have social problems, even if they are physically active.

Boy watching TVPrevious research has suggested that young children who use a lot of screen-based entertainment risk developing difficulties with communication and concentration, as well as other psychological problems and obesity. However, it has not been clear whether these effects are caused by the lack of physical exercise, long periods sitting still or by gaming and TV themselves.

"Many people have wondered whether it may not matter so much if you spend a lot of time in front of a screen if you are physically active," says Angie Page at the University of Bristol's centre for exercise, nutrition and health sciences, UK.

To find out, Page and her colleagues asked 1013 children aged 10 and 11 to wear accelerometers for seven days, to measure how much they moved, and also questioned them about their TV viewing and use of computers, excluding what they did for school and homework.

Children who watched TV for an average of 2 hours or more per day were 61 per cent more likely to have emotional, social and concentration problems, measured using a standard test of children's psychological well-being. The equivalent figure for 2 hours or more of computer-based entertainment – primarily computer games – was 59 per cent.

Exercise didn't help much. The accelerometers revealed that even if children did an hour or more of exercise a day, and the exercise was probably vigorous enough to make them out of breath, those who also watched TV or played on their computers for at least 2 hours daily were still 54 per cent and 48 per cent more likely, respectively, to have psychological problems.

"The intriguing aspect of this study is that the association was not explained by sedentary time and lack of physical activity, suggesting it might in part be driven by the screen content, or something that the children do while in front of TVs or computers, such as consuming fatty or sugary snacks and drinks," says epidemiologist Mark Hamer at University College London, who has also studied the links between screen-based entertainment and psychological problems.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children above the age of 2 should watch no more than 2 hours of screen-based entertainment per day.

Sources: New Scientist (16th October 2010); Pediatrics (DOI:10.1542/peds.2010-1154)

(Edited by Philip - original submission Tuesday, 19 October 2010, 10:12 AM)


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