'Screen Time' Impact Tied to Physical, Mental Health Issues

Yet another new study is shedding light on being addicted to digital devices — whether it’s  your smartphone, tablet, laptop or computer. And like other completed or ongoing research, it concludes that too much “screen time” can affect the physical and mental health of users.

The latest report, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics this week, focuses on toddlers. It found a direct association between screen time at ages 2 and 3 and potential issues with development at 3 and 5. Development includes progress in language, communication, motor skills and “socio-emotional health,” researchers said.

By the time they start school, a quarter of children show some deficiency or delay in these development skills, including communicating, the report states. “Thus, many children are beginning school inadequately prepared for learning and academic success,” the study says.

The report is only the latest to focus on health issues tied to obsessive screen time, especially among young people. However, adults of all ages can also suffer the health consequences of the mobile-digital age, other studies have found. Too much sitting, a sedentary lifestyle, too much unhealthy snacking, poor sleeping habits and less social person-to-person interactions are some of the byproducts of too much screen time, say Baptist Health South Florida experts.

A 60 Minutes report on CBS last month revealed that a $300 million study is following 11,000 children at 21 testing sites across the country to evaluate how screen time is affecting their brain development and mental health. The study involves teenagers undergoing MRI machine scans to detect brain activity as a screen shows them images from their Instagram accounts. In the first phase involving 4,500 participants, researchers noted significant changes in children’s brain development if they spend more than seven hours of screen time a day.

“There’s a lot of data out there and there are more and more studies being done because this is such an important topic,” says said Sergio Jaramillo, M.D., neurologist with Baptist Health Neuroscience Center..

Dr. Jaramillo points out that the problem with this type of data is that children’s brains are “being rewired constantly based on their experience and what they’re exposed to” and it’s challenging for researchers to come up with data that shows a cause-and-effect between screen time and developmental issues. But there has been progress, he adds.

“So a lot of the studies we have so far are trying to build a case and they’re proving associations,” he says. “Kids that are exposed to excessive screen time have an associated lower performance on specific psychological  and social-interaction testing.”

Too much time on digital devices “really affects so many aspects of our health,” stresses Amy Exum, psychotherapist for Care and Counseling Services at Baptist Health South Florida.

“Spending extended periods of time on a tablet, phone or laptop — that probably means we’re not getting outside, we’re not exercising and we’re staying sedentary, which is not a good thing,” says Ms. Exum. “We’re also not getting those important social interactions, such as making eye contact with someone or greeting someone (in person) beyond what is happening behind the screen (of a digital device).”

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has set the following guidelines for “daily screen time” for kids on electronic devices.

  • For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
  • For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use 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.
  • For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.

Watch Now: Sergio Jaramillo, M.D., neurologist with Baptist Health Neuroscience Center, and Amy Exum, psychotherapist at Baptist Health, discuss “Screen Time and Video Games: Impact on Brain and Mental Health” on Facebook Live.

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With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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