These Three Habits Heavily Influence Your Child's Brain Development

Faith Castro
October 2, 2018

Confirming most parents' worst fears, children who had more than two hours of screen time daily performed worse on the tests than kids who spent less time in front of a device.

Researchers from several Canadian institutions explored data on the daily activity of 4,524 USA children aged between eight and 11, and published their findings in article entitled Associations between 24 hour movement behaviours and global cognition in U.S. children: a cross-sectional observational study.

The study was published last week in the journal "The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health".

Walsh along with his research team observed the data of 4,520 children spread across 20 locations in the US.

The study revealed that only 51% of the children got the recommended sleep time, 37% got the recommended screen time and 18% met the physical activity requirement.

Those who met all three had the most "superior" global cognition, followed by those meeting the sleep and screen time recommendation and finally the screen time recommendation alone, according to the study.

It's recommended that children have nine to 11 hours of sleep per day, alongside an hour or more of physical activity, and less than two hours of screen time.

Jeremy Walsh, lead author of the study said it allowed researchers to look at the collective impact of sleep, screen time and exercise on children. The study controlled for factors such as family education level and household income.

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"This new research adds to existing evidence, and supports concerns about screen time and potential negative links with cognitive development in children", Kirsten Corder, a senior investigator scientist with the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge, said in a statement.

Overall, these findings offer a "holy trinity" of healthy habits for parents to encourage in their children to ensure they're growing up with sharp, strong minds.

Walsh and the team analyzed data coming from 4,520 children from 20 locations in the US the experts also tested the kids' cognitive skills, adjusting the results for puberty development, household income, and more factors that might have the ability to affect the kids' performance.

Children also completed a cognition test, which assessed language abilities, episodic memory, executive function, attention, working memory and processing speed.

Researchers found that of those 4,500 children, only 5% met all the suggested guidelines.

For sleep and exercise, the recommendations align with those of the World Health Organization, but Canada is the first country to propose limits for time spent in front of a back-lit screen. Also, because the questionnaires were used only at the onset of the study, they don't show the effects of these behaviors - or cognitive development - over time. It might not come as a surprise that researchers found almost two out of every three USA kids spend more than two hours a day looking at devices.

"Irrespective of our findings", the authors stress, "physical activity remains the most important behaviour for physical health outcomes, and there is no indication in the literature that it negatively affects cognition". Notably, more studies are required to confirm if and how exactly too much screen time can hurt children's cognition. The report said an average tween spends four and a half hours looking at screens for entertainment each day.

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