Putting a screen in front of your child is an easy way to get them out of your hair, but overdoing it can negatively affect their health as adults, according to a decade-long study.
Researchers found that time spent watching TV during childhood and adolescence was associated with metabolic syndrome, higher BMI values, and lower cardiorespiratory fitness in middle and adult life. They found that adjustment to TV viewing in adulthood did not negatively affect health, supporting their hypothesis that excessive sedentary behaviors in childhood may have a greater impact on health in adults than behaviors in adulthood.
The results came from New Zealand children born in 1972 and 1973 and followed up to age 45. The researchers looked at specific ages — 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 32, and 45 — to ask about their TV viewing habits and some health metrics like activity level and BMI.
After adjusting for certain factors such as socioeconomic status and sex, the primary effect of excessive television viewing between ages five and 15 was the presence of metabolic syndrome at age 45. It is defined as having three or more cardiometabolic risk factors such as obesity, insulin resistance, hypertension, and high blood pressure.
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The observational study, published in the journal Pediatrics, cannot prove a link between youth TV viewing and metabolic syndrome, but lead author Dr. Bob Hancox said.
The study also adds to other research showing that screen time can negatively affect a user’s health.
In May, a report from the neuroscience nonprofit Sapien Labs found that overall mental well-being scores were consistently higher when a relatively elderly person received a smartphone.
In 2019, a study found that increased screen time for 2- and 3-year-olds was associated with poorer performance on developmental screening tests. In 2018, researchers found excessive screen time in children and adolescents led to multiple negative physiological and psychological effects, including cardiovascular disease, poor vision, decreased bone density, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
There is not enough evidence to suggest what the best amount of screen time should be, and the American Academy of Pediatrics has suggested that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. But it and other agencies discourage screens for children younger than 2 and recommend that older children spend only one to two hours of screen time per day.
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