For most children, watching television, using computers and playing video games is a part of day-to-day life. But new research suggests that for young children, such activities are linked to poorer well-being.
This is according to a study recently published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
The research team, led by Trina Hinkley, PhD, of Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, says the use of electronic media can be a sedentary behavior and that this behavior can lead to adverse health outcomes, particularly if it is adopted from a young age.
With this in mind, the researchers used data from the European Identification and Prevention of Dietary- and Lifestyle-induced Health Effects in Children and Infants (IDEFICS) study to assess the use of electronic media and its impact on well-being in 3,604 children aged between 2 and 6 years old.
Data was collected between September 2007 and June 2008, and all children were followed for 2 years.
Questionnaires were used to measure six indicators of well-being, including emotional and peer problems, self-esteem, emotional well-being, family functioning and social networks.
Electronic media use linked to poorer family functioning and emotional problems
Results of the study revealed that children who used electronic media - particularly televisions, computers and video games - in early childhood had an increased risk of poorer well-being 2 years later.
In detail, the researchers found that children who had high levels of television viewing at the baseline of the study were at increased risk for poor family functioning, and every additional hour of weekday television viewing was linked with a 1.3-fold increased risk in girls and a 1.2-fold increased risk in boys.
The investigators say this suggests that families who watch more television during their child's early years do not support children's well-being as well as other families who watch less television.
"This lack of support may result from a lack of appropriate relationships within the family or a failure to develop them," they add.
Furthermore, the study results revealed that girls with high levels of video game and computer use at baseline were at increased risk for emotional problems. Every additional hour of weekday video game and computer use was linked with a 2-fold increased risk.
Commenting on the findings, the researchers say:
"Higher levels of early childhood electronic media use are associated with children being at risk for poorer outcomes with some indicators of well-being. Further research is required to identify potential mechanisms of this association."
The link between media use and childhood obesity
Past research has also associated media use with childhood obesity. Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that children who have televisions in their bedroom are more likely to gain weight.
But a new study, also published in JAMA Pediatrics, suggests that maternal monitoring of the time children spend watching TV or playing video games could reduce the risk of child weight gain.
For the study, the research team analyzed 112 mothers, 103 fathers and their 213 children at age 5, 7 and/or 9 years.
Results revealed that the less time mothers spent monitoring children's media consumption, the greater the children's increase in body mass index (BMI) at 7 years old.
The study authors write:
"This supports the validity of our interpretation that child media time has direct effects on BMI, is under substantial control by parents, and therefore is a prime target for family intervention."