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Study: Screen Time Linked to Inattention Problems and ADHD in Preschoolers

A new Canadian study shows a strong association between screen time and behavior and inattention problems in preschoolers, however it fails to consider the varying impacts of different types of content.

Reviewed on May 16, 2019

April 25, 2019

Preschool children exposed to at least two hours of screen time each day are roughly six times more likely to struggle with inattention and behavior problems, compared to peers who used screens for 30 minutes or less each day. This finding comes from a recent study published by Plos One1 that concludes children exposed to two or more hours of daily screen time are almost eight times more likely to meet the criteria for attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD).

Researchers from the University of Alberta used data from the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) study of children aged 3 to 5 years old to examine associations between screen time and preschool behavior. Parents of 2,427 children reported each child’s total screen time, plus other factors such as physical activity. The 3 year olds studied averaged 1.5 hours of screen time per day with a small decrease to 1.4 hours of screen time for 5 year olds.

The study found that structured physical activity could significantly offset the risks associated with screen time. Behavioral issues were less common in children who participated in weekly organized sports for at least two hours.

Though more screen time was associated with greater hyperactivity and risk of missing developmental targets, researchers acknowledge that the study didn’t consider whether different types of content — video games, FaceTime, YouTube, for example — had different effects. Researchers also relied on parents’ subjective observations to draw conclusions.

Researchers suggested that pre-school may be a critical period for educating parents about limiting screen-time and supporting physical activity.

Footnotes

Tamana SK, Ezeugwu V, Chikuma J, Lefebvre DL, Azad MB, Moraes TJ, et al. Screen-time is associated with inattention problems in preschoolers: Results from the CHILD birth cohort study. PLoS ONE (Apr. 2019). https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0213995

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