Children who spend more than two hours a day in front of a computer or television screen suffer psychological damage, a new study warns today.
Scientists also found physical exercise does not ”compensate” for excessive screen time.
The study, on more than 1,000 children aged 10 and 11, revealed that those who watched a small amount of television are happier than those who don’t.
Researchers found no evidence that being sedentary had negative effects – but certain activities such as watching television do.
Dr Angie Page of the University of Bristol’s Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences and lead author for the study, recommended limiting children’s screen usage to under two hours per day.
She said: ”People do have an ‘eat a carrot so you can have a cake’ idea about screen time and exercise but the study found it does not work like that.
”Other countries, such as the US and Australia, have separate guidelines for exercise and screen time and that is something that could be considered here.
”We found that children were still likely to suffer psychological difficulties, regardless of being within the exercise guidelines.
”What we do not want to say is that children shouldn’t exercise because that is not true.
”Children should be encouraged to be active for good health, and to reduce their screen time.
”It can be difficult to get children to turn off the computer or television but there is no evidence to show negative effects from low levels of screen viewing.
”For children of the age we studied, there are usually only 4-5 hours between school and bed so to limit viewing time to half of that is not unreasonable.”
The research team measured the daily ‘screen time’ of 1,013 Year Six pupils from Bristol and assessed their psychological well-being.
An activity monitor recorded the time the children spent being sedentary and carrying physical activity.
Children who were more active performed better in certain areas, such as emotional and peer problems, but worse in areas related to behavior, including hyperactivity.
Their psychological wellbeing was assessed using a questionnaire which rated their emotional, peer, conduct and hyperactivity problems.
They were asked to rate themselves using a series of statements such as ‘I am often unhappy, down-hearted or tearful’ as not true, somewhat true to certainly true.
The study is published in the November edition of the American journal Pediatrics and was supported by the World Cancer Research Fund and the National Prevention Research Initiative.