By Cindy Merrick
New research, believed to be the first nationally representative study to assess cumulative “screen time” in young children at an individual level, finds that preschoolers are watching on average as many as four hours per day. The longitudinal study “Preschoolers’ Total Daily Screen Time at Home and by Type of Child Care.” was conducted on almost 9,000 preschool-aged children and published in the journal Pediatrics.
This contrasts with the policy statement of the American Academy of Pediatrics(AAP) on television viewing (including DVD and movie-watching) for children, which recommends that parents “limit children’s media time (with entertainment media) to no more than 1 to 2 hours of quality programming per day.” The AAP cites research on the link between media violence and real-life aggressive behavior as a reason for doing so. It also warns against general negative health effects from too much TV, in areas like academic performance, self-image, nutrition and obesity, and substance abuse.
According to the new study’s findings, at preschool ages, children are exceeding the Academy’s recommendation by at least doubling the Academy’s recommendation daily. Some nearly triple the maximum, where children in home-based child care environments are consuming an average of 5.6 total hours per day, 33 percent of that taking place during child care hours. According to these numbers, the amount watched during home-based child care hours alone is nearly the maximum recommended for each entire day. And even children with no external caregiver situations average 4.4 hours per day. Smaller totals were found among preschoolers in the Head Start program.
Interestingly, the authors found that “For more socioeconomically vulnerable children, being in Head Start is associated with less average daily screen time compared with home-based care or parental care only, suggesting a potentially protective effect.”
It is important to note that the study in no way establishes a causal link between child behavior or development and hours in front of a TV, nor does it make any conclusion about individual day-care choices. But the degree of sedentary behavior indicated by such consumption patterns should raise concern in light of the prevalence of childhood obesity.
The study used data from a nationally representative sample of children born in 2001, to measure reported daily screen time per child based on the sum of a parent’s and day care provider’s (if different from parent) responses. The final model controlled for the child’s race and sex, for the mother’s education level and marital status, and for family income.