Most children under 5 are spending an excessive amount of time in front of screens

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CALGARY, Canada — According to a new study, most children under the age of 5 are spending an unhealthy amount of time on smartphones or in front of the television. Researchers found only a minority of children worldwide are meeting the recommended hours of screen time.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of 2 avoid any technology except for video chatting. Children between 2 and 5 should have only 1 to 2 hours of looking at electronics. Past studies show excessive screen time leads to developmental delays, including language and sociability. It is also associated with childhood obesity and worsening mental health.

The team searched past studies measuring the screen time of children under the age of 5. Results yielded 63 studies evaluating nearly 90,000 children on whether they met or exceeded screen time recommendations.

“One in 4 children younger than 2 years and 1 in 3 children aged 2 to 5 years are meeting screen time guidelines, highlighting the need for additional public health initiatives aimed at promoting healthy device use,” write the researchers.

Almost 25% of kids under 2 did not use screens. Only 35.6% of children between 2 and 5 limited their screen time to under an hour. More children (about 56%) between 2 and 5 met the guidelines when their screen time was under 2 hours. Based on these findings, the researchers say families will only need to make minor adjustments to get to 1 hour of screen time a day.

Another finding was that children under 5 were more likely to exceed recommendations if they watched television or a movie. “This pattern of results may suggest that there is a change in screen use patterns with age, where younger children tend to consume more TV/movies, whereas older children may be more likely to engage in a variety of screen use activities (eg, TV/movies, tablets, computer, video games),” explains the team in their study.

The research study is available to read in JAMA Pediatrics.

South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.