Children’s health threatened by increasing screen time, says journal

The Guardian (UK) 12 Oct 2012
By the age of seven, a child born today in the UK will have spent an entire year of 24 hours a day looking at TV, computer and video game screens. By the age of 18, that will be three whole years. According to a review of studies carried out around the world on the effect of screen time on children, they could be seriously damaging their health.

The paper in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, written by psychologist Dr Aric Sigman following a speech he gave to the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, which co-owns the journal, says that although US, Canadian and Australian doctors have expressed concern, “to date, views of the British and European medical establishments on increasing high levels of child screen time remain conspicuous by their absence”.

However, there is plenty of concern about rising obesity and inactivity, in which TV and computer games are implicated. The Department of Health frames it as an inactivity issue, rather than a screen problem. “The chief medical officer published guidance last year on children’s activity levels,” it said in a statement reacting to Sigman’s call for more guidance from the government and doctors. “All under-fives should spend as little time as possible sitting still except when they’re sleeping. Once a child can walk, they should be physically active and mobile for at least three hours a day.”

There is plenty of evidence that sitting for hours at a time stores up health problems for the future. Sedentary behaviour is linked to rising risks of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke. But Sigman’s review also cites studies that show increases in blood pressure in children playing computer games and says that screen time is associated with unhealthy eating behaviour. Children respond to junk food adverts and eat in front of screens, which is such a distraction that it disturbs their memory of what they have consumed and they want to eat again.

More concerning to the parent who thought children’s TV was educational and harmless are the studies that suggest screen time has an effect on a baby’s developing brain. A US study cited by the review published in the journal Pediatrics of 2,623 children found that those who watched TV at the ages of one and three years “had a significantly increased risk of developing attentional problems by the time they were seven years old”. Then there is “Facebook depression”, reported by the American Academy of Pediatrics: an increased risk of disengagement and vulnerability to victimisation after high levels of screen time in early childhood, poor social skills and an impaired ability to express empathy. Sigman notes changes in familial interactions, with children too absorbed in their screen world to greet a parent arriving home.

Children ‘spend more time watching TV than at school’
Telegraph (UK) 12 Oct 2012
By the age of seven, a child born today will have spent a full year glued to screens, according to Dr Aric Sigman. The average 10-year-old has at least five screens readily available to them at home, and over the course of childhood youngsters spend more time watching TV than they spend in school, he said. Limiting the amount of time children spend in front of a screen could have significant advantages for their health and wellbeing, Dr Sigman said.

Limit children’s screen time, expert urges
BBC News 12 Oct 2012
The amount of time children spend in front of screens should be curbed to stave off development and health problems, an expert says.