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New Research Links Screen Time With Childhood Development Delays

Young Boys Using Smartphones

Research from Tohoku University links screen time in one-year-olds to developmental delays, particularly in communication and problem-solving skills, highlighting the need for nuanced understanding and further study of the effects of various types of screen exposure.

A study conducted by Tohoku University in collaboration with Hamamatsu University School of Medicine, and published in JAMA Pediatrics, has found a correlation between the screen time of one-year-old children and developmental delays.

The research involved 7,097 mother-child pairs from the Tohoku Medical Megabank Project Birth and Three-Generation Cohort Study. It assessed each child’s exposure to screens, including televisions, video games, tablets, mobile phones, and other electronic devices, using questionnaires completed by parents.

The children in the study were almost evenly split between boys (51.8%) and girls (48.2%). Their screen time exposure was assigned to the categories of less than one hour (48.5% of subjects), from one to less than two hours (29.5%), from two to less than four hours (17.9%), and four or more hours (4.1%).

Detailed Developmental Assessment

The children’s development was assessed at two and four years of age in the five domains of communication, gross motor, fine motor, problem-solving, and personal and social skills. Previous studies in the field have generally not broken development down into different domains, therefore offering a less refined view.

Association of Screen Time at 1 Year of Age With Communication and Problem Solving Developmental Delay

Association of screen time at 1 year of age with communication and problem-solving developmental delay. Credit: Tohoku University

The association between screen time at age one and later developmental delay was assessed using an established statistical technique, revealing a dose-response association; meaning that the level of developmental delay (the response) was correlated to the amount (dose) of screen time.

For the children aged two, increased screen time when aged one was associated with developmental delays in all domains apart from gross motor skills. By the age of four, however, increased screen time was associated with developmental delays in only the communication and problem-solving domains.

Unique Insights and Future Considerations

“The differing levels of developmental delays in the domains, and the absence of any detected delay in some of them at each stage of life examined, suggests that the domains should be considered separately in future discussions of the association between screen time and child development,” says Tohoku University epidemiologist Taku Obara, corresponding author of the research article.

One reason for undertaking this study was recent evidence published by the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics suggesting that only a minority of children are meeting guidelines for limiting screen time exposure. The guidelines were designed to ensure that children engage in sufficient physical activity and social interaction.

“The rapid proliferation of digital devices, alongside the impact of the COVID pandemic, has markedly increased screen time for children and adolescents, but this study does not simply suggest a recommendation for restricting screen time. This study suggests an association, not causation between screen time and developmental delay” says Obara. “We use the term ‘delay’ in accordance with previous research, but it is debatable whether this difference in development is really a ‘delay’ or not. We would like to gain deeper insight in future studies by examining the effects of different types of screen exposure.”

Reference: “Screen Time at Age 1 Year and Communication and Problem-Solving Developmental Delay at 2 and 4 Years” by Ippei Takahashi, Taku Obara, Mami Ishikuro, Keiko Murakami, Fumihiko Ueno, Aoi Noda, Tomomi Onuma, Genki Shinoda, Tomoko Nishimura, Kenji J. Tsuchiya and Shinichi Kuriyama, , JAMA Pediatrics.
DOI: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2023.3057

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