Limiting toddlers' screen time could help prevent obesity

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Researchers, including Southampton’s Professor Keith Godfrey, found children in Singapore aged two to three years, whose screen time was limited to less than an hour a day were more active in later childhood.

The new study, published in The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health, suggests that limiting toddlers’ screen time could help them develop healthy habits that mean they are more active in early childhood.

Given the current rise in childhood obesity, this suggests limiting screen time when children are young could potentially help them to grow up living healthier, more active lives.

Tracking children’s activity

The researchers analysed data from 552 children in the Growing Up in Singapore Towards healthy Outcomes (GUSTO) study, which has tracked the long-term health of mothers and their children from birth since it started in June 2009.

When the children were two to three years old, the parents attended a clinic where they were asked about their child’s daily screen viewing habits, including TV, mobile phones, tablets and computers.

Then, when the children were five and a half years old, they wore an accelerometer on their wrist for seven consecutive days (including at night) to measure their activity.

Toddlers in Singapore who spent less than an hour a day looking at screens were found to be more active at age at five and a half than toddlers who clocked up more than three hours a day.

This may be due to screen time taking up time that children would otherwise spend doing something more active, like exercise or play.

Fighting childhood obesity

Childhood obesity is a growing problem worldwide. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that in 2016 the number of overweight children under the age of five was over 41 million.

These children likely to stay obese as adults, increasing their risk of developing diseases linked to obesity such as heart disease or type 2 diabetes.

“The results from this study highlight the role reducing screen time in very young children could have in tackling the obesity crisis,” says Professor Keith Godfrey.

“They suggest that restricting screen time for toddlers could help to establish healthy habits that stay with them throughout childhood, building the foundations for exercise in later life.”

Posted on Monday 2 March 2020