In very recent times, parents have struggled between providing healthy content on TV or the internet and keeping tabs on the duration of “screen time” their children get. The supervision of the latter has proven to be as important as the former, because of the need and benefits of in-person interpersonal social interaction for children.
Parents can now act based on evidence after a new study led by University of Illinois professor, Naiman Khan, found that 24-month-old children who spent less than 60 minutes looking at screens each day and those who engaged in more physical activity had a better executive function.
The toddlers’ program was designed according to the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for physical activity, and their executive function was measured against a second group who did not meet these guidelines.
Professor Khan who referred to executive function as something that “underlies your ability to engage in goal-directed behaviors”, also stated that the objective of the study was to see the difference in the toddlers’ abilities to remember, plan, pay attention, shift between tasks, and regulate their own thoughts and behavior.
According to him, these functions allow you to regulate your thoughts, emotions, and behavior; working memory, by which you are able to hold information in your mind long enough to accomplish a task; and cognitive flexibility, the adeptness with which you switch your attention between tasks or competing demands.”
Through its Bright Futures initiative, the AAP recommends that children spend less than 60 minutes looking at screens each day, engage in daily physical activity, consume five or more servings of fruits and vegetables and minimize or eliminate the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, which isn’t half-different from what the guidelines ought to be for adults by the way.
Previous studies have linked adherence to guidelines for physical activity levels, screen time, and diet quality with executive function in school-aged or adolescent children.
“We wanted to test the hypothesis that healthy weight status and adherence to the AAP guidelines for diet and physical activity would extend to greater executive function in 24-month-old children,” said Arden McMath, a graduate student of Khan’s and co-author of the paper.
“We focused on an earlier period in child development to see whether and how early in life these relationships begin,” she said.
The families of the 356 toddlers in the new research are participants in the STRONG KIDS 2 cohort study at the Univ. of Illinois, a long-term look at the interdependent factors that predict dietary habits and weight trajectories of children who are followed from birth to 5 years old.
The study uses parental surveys and data on the children collected at eight-time points over five years, including when the children are 24 months old.
Martin Sharp writes is a writer based in Montana. He loves being outdoors and appreciates anything nature-related.