BETHESDA, Md.—The American love affair with anything that has a screen starts early with 1-year olds logging 53 minutes a day watching TV, looking at a computer screen or gazing at the screen of a mobile device, finds a new analysis from the National Institutes of Health, the University of Albany and the New York University Langone Medical Center.
That figure nearly triples by age 3, with this group of toddlers spending 150 minutes per day watching a screen, according to the analysis, which appears in JAMA Pediatrics.
"Our results indicate that screen habits begin early," said Edwina Yeung, Ph.D., the study's senior author and an investigator in the Epidemiology Branch of NIH's Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). "This finding suggests that interventions to reduce screen time could have a better chance of success if introduced early."
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children under 18 months have no exposure to digital media. Eighteen- to 24-month-year-old children should have a slow introduction to screens, and 2- to 5-year-old children should be limited to an hour a day, according to the academy. The latest research found 87% of children studied spent more than the recommended time watching a screen; however, viewing pares back as children reach 7 and 8 years of age, most likely because of school-related activities, the researchers said.
While early childhood screen time is far higher than the academy recommends, it pales in comparison to the average time spent each day by U.S. adults 18 years old and older. In the first quarter of 2019, this group spent 9 hours and 45 minutes per day with screen media (11:27 total media time minus 1:42 spent with radio), according to “The Nielsen Total Audience Report: Q1.”
The NICHD researchers analyzed data from the Upstate KIDS Study, which followed children conceived after infertility treatments and born in New York from 2008 to 2010. Nearly 4,000 mothers took part and responded to questions about their children’s media use at 12, 18, 24, 30 and 36 months of age. When their children were 7 and 8 years old they responded to media-related questions as well, according to the researchers.
Children were classified into two groups based on their increase in average daily screen time from age 1 to 3. Seventy-three percent had the smallest increase—from an average of 51 minutes per day to 1:47 per day. Twenty-seven percent had the highest increase—from 37 minutes to nearly 4 hours per day, they said.
The researchers found that the higher the level of education of parents the less likely their children would be in the group with the greater increase in screen time. Girls were slightly less likely to be in the group with the higher increase in viewing time than boys, and children of first-time moms were more likely to be in the group.
They also found that children in home-based care, whether by a parent, babysitter or relative, were more than twice as likely to have high screen time.