Infectious Disease

95% of preschool children in Finland exceed WHO recommendations for screening time

April 15, 2021

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Almost all 5-year-olds in a Finnish birth cohort study exceeded the WHO recommended maximum daily screening time of 1 hour, putting their psychosocial wellbeing at risk, researchers wrote in BMJ Open.

Juulia Paavonen, a lecturer at the University of Helsinki in Finland, and colleagues asked parents of 699 preschoolers how much time their child spent on electronic media (defined as watching television on television and on other electronic devices, and how many hours they had in the child participated in electronic gaming on a computer, console device, mobile phone, tablet, or other device at the age of 18 months and again at the age of 5. The researchers also asked parents about their children’s psychosocial symptoms at the age of 5 through the Five to Fifteen Questionnaire and the Strengths and Difficulty Questionnaire.

The researchers reported that 95% of preschoolers exceeded the WHO recommended maximum screening time for children ages 2 to 4 years. Although the screening time at 5 years of age was associated with a higher risk of numerous psychosocial symptoms (OR = 1.53; 95% CI, 1.05-3.34), it was only associated with internalization and externalization of symptoms associated at 18 months of age (OR = 1.59; 95% CI, 1.04-2.41).

In addition, “high-dose use” of electronic games at the age of 5 was associated with fewer risks to psychosocial well-being than viewing programs – in particular, it was associated with hyperactivity (OR = 1.65; 95% CI, 1.08– 2.51). according to the researchers.

“It is important for doctors to know that many young children have more screening time than the WHO recommends, and that screening time is a significant risk factor for psychosocial difficulties even in young children,” said Paavonen. “It’s important for parents to know that screen time is a risk factor for emotional and behavioral symptoms, inattentiveness and hyperactivity.”

She said the results also highlight the importance of young children spending time away from devices with screens.

“Children learn social skills and behavior and emotion regulation in everyday situations with adults and other children,” she said. “Screens can negatively affect interactions between family members in a number of ways.”

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Hallie Zwibel, MPH, DO, FAAFP)

Hallie Zwibel, MPH, DO, FAAFP

This study raises some questions about screen time and psychosocial functioning in children. It should be noted that this study was completed from 2011 to 2017 so it does not reflect the increased screen time usage observed during the pandemic. The authors make an interesting point that video games were less associated with psychosocial wellbeing. This suggests that not all screen times are created equal and should be investigated further.

It is our responsibility as naturopaths to be aware of our patients’ use of video games, the frequency of video game use, and the negative health consequences that may result from their use (e.g., affected posture, eye strain), injuries to the Musculoskeletal system). We need to evaluate these things even if the player is engaged in other activities, appears otherwise healthy, or even plays a sport on a more traditional playing field like a baseball diamond or a soccer field.

Hallie Zwibel, MPH, DO, FAAFP

Professor, Family Medicine, and Director of the New York Institute of Sports Medicine Technology

Disclosure: Zwibel does not report any relevant financial information.

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