Tuesday 5 November 2019 4:40 AM UTC
NEW YORK Nov 5: Exposure to smartphone, tablet, laptop and TV screens has been linked with lower structural integrity in the areas of children’s brains that support language and other literacy skills, a study has suggested.
Research from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Centre found that children with higher levels of screen time have lower structure integrity of white matter – brain tissue essential to brain function, communication and learning.
The study suggests that use of screen-based media in early childhood may provide “sub-optimal stimulation during this rapid, formative state of brain development,” said Dr John Hutton, director of the Reading and Literacy Discovery Center at Cincinnati Children’s and lead author of the study.
“While we can’t yet determine whether screen time causes these structural changes or implies long-term neurodevelopmental risks, these findings warrant further study to understand what they mean and how to set appropriate limits on technology use,” he said.
The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, examined 47 healthy children (27 girls and 20 boys) aged between three and five years old. The children completed standard cognitive tests before undertaking a diffusion tensor MRI, which estimates a brain’s white matter integrity.
Their parents were asked to complete a 15-item ScreenQ screening tool test which reflected screen time recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the results of which were statistically associated with cognitive test scores and the MRI findings, adjusted for age, gender and household income.
Higher ScreenQ scores were significantly associated with lower expressive language, the ability to name objects quickly and emerging literary skills.
They were also associated with lower white matter integrity, which affects organisation and myelination, the process of forming a fatty myelin tissue sheath around a nerve to allow nerve impulses to move more quickly – in tracts supporting language executive function and other literacy skills.
“Screen-based media use is prevalent and increasing in home, childcare and school settings at ever younger ages,” Dr Hutton added.
“These findings highlight the need to understand effects of screen time on the brain, particularly during stages of dynamic brain development in early childhood, so that providers, policymakers and parents can set healthy limits.”
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