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Roundup: ‘Screen Time’ Effect on Toddlers; Walk More to Sleep Better; and Most Obese States

Study: Too Much ‘Screen Time’ Lowers Brain Development in Toddlers

No more than one hour a day of “screen time” on digital devices is recommended by experts for young children, including computer tablets and smart phones. Nonetheless, screen time use by infants, toddlers and preschoolers has surged over the last decade.

A study published this week in JAMA Pediatrics [1] warns that children’s literacy and language skills suffer with screen use. The findings are based on MRI scans of the brains of toddlers.

The study involved more than 40 kids , 3- to 5-year-olds, who were tested to measure their cognitive abilities. Their parents answered detailed surveys about their kids’ screen time habits. Some of the questions included: How frequently do they use that screen? What type of content are they viewing? And is there an adult sitting with the child talking about what they’re watching? The answers were scored based on screen time guidelines put out by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The kids then underwent MRI scans.

The MRI scans revealed that s revealed that kids who had more screen time had what researcherrs refer to as lower “white matter integrity.” White matter has to do with the brain’s internal communications network that allows electrical signals to move from one area of the brain to another without interruption. White matter is very important to the development of language, literacy and cognitive skills.

Previous studies have shown that excessive TV viewing afffects the social skills of children and their ability to pay attention and think clearly. Too much TV time also increases poor eating habits and behavioral problems, studies have shown.

“Think of white matter as cables, sort of like the telephone lines that are connecting the various parts of the brain so they can talk to each other,” said lead study author, John Hutton, M.D., a pediatrician and clinical researcher at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

According to the AAP, screen time for children ages 2 to 5 years should be limited to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them, the AAP states.

A separate study published earlier this year found a direct association between screen time at ages 2 and 3 and potential issues with development at 3 and 5 years. Development includes progress in language, communication, motor skills and “socio-emotional health,” researchers said. The findings, however, were mostly based on a review of data collected from parents, and did not include MRI brain scans like the new study.

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Walking More During the Day Can Improve Quality of Sleep at Night

Daily physical activity, even if its brisk walking for 20 minutes or more, can have health benefits. A study published in the journal Sleep Health [4] is helping to fill that research gap. Researchers are adding improved sleep to the list of benefits gained from regular exercise, particularly walking more than usual.

A research team at Brandeis University found that healthy adults sleep better at night when they increase the time they spend walking each day. The adults involved in the study did not have any symptoms common in people with disgnosed sleep problems.

The study’s authors say that people do not need to take part in high-intensity routines to improve their sleep. Simply taking more steps during the day may be enough to improve one’s quality of sleep.

This study stands out because the participants did not have sleep issues. Previous studies on physical activity have focused on patients with clinical sleep disturbances.

For the study, Brandeis researchers recruited 59 middle-aged or older adults, with an average age of 49, from the Boston area. All participants had full-time jobs and reported sleeping for at least seven hours, which is the recommended minimum, on most nights. They were all healthy and able to walk briskly. At the beginning of the research, participants self-reported walking less than 60 minutes per day.

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These are the U.S. States With the Highest Rates of Obesity

The states with the most obese residents in the nation are Mississippi, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama, according to the report, 2019’s Fattest States in America [8], by the personal finance website, Wallethub.com.

The healthiest, or least obese, states are Utah, Colorado, Massachusetts, Connecticut, California and Minnesota. Florida ranked near the middle at 28th place.

Every year, WalletHub compares the 50 states and the District of Columbia across three key dimensions: 1) Obesity and overweight prevalence; 2) health consequences; and 3) food and fitness.

They ranked the states using 29 relevant metrics, including share of overweight adults and children, and share of residents with high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 representing the most obese state. No. 1 Mississippi had the highest score of 70.66.

In the United States, the prevalence of obesity is about 40 percent and affects about 94 million adults, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More than 7 in 10 U.S. adults aged 20 and older are either overweight or obese, the CDC says. Rates are lower for children and adolescents, but have risen drastically in the past few decades.

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