NEW YORK (Reuters) - More than two hours a day spent watching television or playing computer games could put a child at greater risk for psychological problems regardless of their activity levels, according to a British study.
Researchers from the University of Bristol studied more than 1,000 children aged 10 and 11.
Over seven days, the children filled out a questionnaire reporting how much time they spent daily in front of a television or computer and answering questions describing their mental state — including emotional, behavioral, and peer-related problems. Meanwhile, an accelerometer measured their physical activity.
The odds of significant psychological difficulties were about 60 percent higher for children spending longer than two hours a day in front of either screen compared with those exposed to less screen time, the researchers report in the journal Pediatrics.
For children with more than two hours of both types of screen time during the day, the odds more than doubled.
The researchers found these results held regardless of sex, age, stage of puberty, or level of educational or economic deprivation and also no matter how active the children were during the rest of the day. “We know that physical activity is good for both physical and mental health in children and there is some evidence that screen viewing is associated with negative behaviors,” researcher Dr. Angie Page told Reuters Health.
“But it wasn’t clear whether having high physical activity levels would ‘compensate’ for high levels of screen viewing in children.”
The researchers found that psychological problems further increased if children fell short of an hour of moderate to rigorous daily exercise in addition to the increased screen time. However, physical activity did not appear to compensate for the psychological consequences of screen time.
The researchers said sedentary time itself was not related to mental wellbeing.
“It seems more like what you are doing in that sedentary time that is important,” said Page, noting the lack of negative effect found for activities such as reading and doing homework.
Page and her team acknowledged several limitations in their study, including the potential for a child to inaccurately recall his or her activities when filling out the questionnaire.
Reporting by Lynne Peebles of Reuters Health, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith