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Smarter children with less time in front of the screen

Spending too many hours in front of computers, tablets, mobile phones and TVs is a bad habit that contributes to developing a sedentary lifestyle. They are the basis of many of the common pathologies of the Western world.

Transmitting these mistaken behaviours to children and adolescents is even worse, as it is going to undermine the healthy intellectual development of their bodies but also of their growing minds.

Indeed, these aspects are not news, but in September 2018 the Lancet, one of the most authoritative world medical journals, published a revealing article. The publication on the edition dedicated to the health of children and adolescents showed the result of a 10-year observational study that involved over 4,500 US children between 8 and 11 years old.

The purpose of this investigation was to evaluate the relationship between adherence to guidelines for the health of children and adolescents and their global cognitive ability.

The authors of the study took as reference guidelines the ones proposed by the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology. These "24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth" recommend for children and teenagers between 5 and 17 years the following principles:

  • 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day, and several hours of light physical activity
  • Uninterrupted 9-11 hours of sleep per night, with consistent bed and wake-up times
  • Maximum 2 hours of "recreational" time in front of a screen (PC, tablet, TV, mobiles)

At the end of the observation period, the researchers found that only 5% of the studied kids and teens respected all three of these points in their daily life. Just over half had at least the sleeping hours, and about a third adhere to the limit use of monitors.

The results also showed an improvement in cognitive ability for each goal achieved, with - as expected- a maximum benefit in those youngsters who met all three goals. However, a statistically significant advantage was found in those who stood in front of a screen for less than 2 hours a day. And even better results were obtained by minors who spent little time in front of displays and rested for 9-11 hours a night.

This work is of extreme importance, especially for parents. Perhaps the two most important take-home messages from the study are that for a healthy physical and mental state of your children you should:

  • provide them with ample space and time for physical and playful activities
  • limit the "recreational" use of technologies, which are useful tools for studying and explore new subjects, but without abusing

We hope that after reading this article, you turn off your device and go out to play with your kids.