Parents' viewing behaviours influence toddlers' sedentary screen use

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A Singapore study with the NIHR Southampton BRC has shown that parents’ TV viewing habits are the strongest behavioural predictor of toddlers’ excessive time in front of TV and handheld screens, posing a risk to their development and health.

NIHR Southampton BRC nutrition theme lead Prof Keith Godfrey was part of the study team that looked at factors influencing screen viewing time, amongst two and three year olds. Published in the International Journal of behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity, it closely monitored 1247 pregnant mothers and 1171 toddlers born from 2009 onwards.

Health risks of sedentary viewing

The low physical activity and social interaction involved in long periods of time spent in front of screens has long been associated with impacts on mental and physical health.

Some of these effects in pre-schoolers include eating disorders, sleep deprivation and developmental delays, and greater risk of developing obesity.

Parental influence

The new study considered mothers’ ethnicity, family income, education, age, BMI and other factors. It found that the children of younger mothers, of lower than university degree education level, or Indian and Malay ethnicity, spent longer in front of screens. However it was mothers’ daily television viewing habits that were the strongest behavioural predictor of their child’s total screen time.

The research found that when the mother watched more than 2-3 hours of TV daily, their children spent more time in front of screens than when the mother watched less TV.

Evidence for changing behaviours

These finding add weight to previous studies showing that the presence of frequent screen users within a household is often associated with a child’s screen behaviours.

It provides evidence suggesting that interventions aimed at changing parental viewing behaviours could be beneficial in tackling poor health outcomes associated with excessive screen time amongst young children. 

Posted on Thursday 19 October 2017