A child who spends at least two hours a day in front of a TV screen or computer monitor has a significantly higher risk of developing psychological problems, no matter how much physical activity they do, researchers from the University of Bristol’s Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences, England reported in an article published in the American Journal of Pediatrics. The more physically active children who were in front of a screen for at least two hours a day appeared to do better than their sedentary peers in emotional and peer problems, but fared worse in behavioral areas, including hyperactivity.

This latest study, called The PEACH project, assessed over 1,000 kids aged ten and eleven years. The investigators gathered data on how long they spent in front of a computer monitor and/or TV screen, as well as their mental health. The children’s levels of physical activity were measured and recorded using an activity monitor.

The researchers found that those children who spend at least two hours watching TV and/or using their computer for non-homework use (recreational use) had higher psychological difficulty scores compared to their peers who spent less time in front of screens. The investigators add that the difficulty scores persisted, irrespective of how physically active the children were.

In other words, it appears that regular prolonged exposure to monitors/screens increases the risk of psychological problems, and exercise does not seem to get rid of the problem.

The authors believe that limiting a child’s exposure to TV/Computer screens could play an important role in protecting their current and future mental health and well-being.

The activity monitor indicated that:

  • Kids whose physical activity were gauged as sedentary appeared to get better overall psychological scores.
  • Children with moderate physical activity seemed to have more behavior problems, including hyperactivity, but had better scores relating to peer problems and emotional issues.

Their psychological well-being was evaluated via questionnaires which asked them to rate their strengths and difficulties in areas of hyperactivity, behavior (conduct), emotional, and peer problems. They read a series of statements and were asked to rate their truth value with a score of 1 to 3 – with 1 being untrue and 3 being certainly true. En example of statements they had to rate regarding emotional well-being included; “I am often unhappy, down-hearted or tearful’, while statements to assess their peer problems included; ‘I am usually on my own’, ‘I generally play alone or keep to myself.”

Lead author, Angie Page said:

Whilst low levels of screen viewing may not be problematic, we cannot rely on physical activity to ‘compensate’ for long hours of screen viewing.

Watching TV or playing computer games for more than two hours a day is related to greater psychological difficulties irrespective of how active children are.

Source: University of Bristol’s Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences

“Children’s Screen Viewing is Related to Psychological Difficulties Irrespective of Physical Activity”
Angie Page et al
Published online October 11, 2010
PEDIATRICS (doi:10.1542/peds.2010-1154d)

Written by Christian Nordqvist