Preschooler health put at risk

Last updated 13:36 18/03/2014

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When young children clamour to watch another episode of their favourite TV shows, frazzled parents often find themselves caving in to their offspring's requests.

But a new study has found that increased electronic media use - including smartphones, tablets and computer games - can lead to poorer psychological health in preschool children.

While the link between children's sedentary time spent on the couch and poor physical health has been well established, looking at psychological and social wellbeing was a new research area, said study co-author and Australia National Health and Medical Research Council council early career fellow Dr Trina Hinkley.

"For a long time we thought that kids this age couldn't sit still enough to watch enough TV to be a problem," said  Hinkley.

"But now we're seeing they are sitting more and engaging with new media and so we are looking at detrimental effects because of these behaviours."

Using a measure of poor psychological and social health, the researchers found it could be as much as double for each additional hour of television or computer use.

One hypothesis was that watching too much television reduced the opportunity for young children to engage socially and learn to manage their emotions through play.

Very fast-paced cartoons, aggressive or violent shows may be more detrimental than educational shows, but the bulk of evidence suggested it was the total volume, not just content alone that mattered, Hinkley said.

The study found that young children with higher levels of television viewing were also at increased risk of poor family functioning.

Poor well-being during early childhood was associated with later depression and hostile and aggressive behaviour.

The study, published today in the journal JAMA Paediatrics, [Journal of the American Medical Association] also found watching television was more consistently associated with poorer outcomes than electronic game or computer use.

The Australian Department of Health recommended that children under two should have no screen time and those between two and five who were not yet at school should have less than one hour each day.

The mean age of the children in the JAMA study sample was between four and six.

It analysed data from a European Study of 31,500 children that investigated the causes of dietary and lifestyle-induced.

Hinkley said the data was similar to that of Australian children.

Another study in the same journal looked at the effect of parental monitoring on the weight of their children found mothers who monitored the time that their children spend watching TV and playing video games have slimmer children than those who do not. But this did not hold true for fathers.

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- The Age

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