The American Heart Association now cautions parents to limit their children's screen time if they want them to avoid potential cardiovascular complications in the future.
The AHA recommends no more than one to two hours of screen time per day among children and teenagers, be it on smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles, TV, and other outlets.
"Screen time is associated with being overweight and obese which is associated with high cholesterol and high blood pressure," according to Stephen Daniels, a pediatric cardiologist and AHA spokesperson. "Once those risk factors, such as obesity, are in play in childhood, they tend to continue into adulthood."
Screen Time Is Associated With Obesity And Poor Heart Health
"The nature of screen time has dramatically changed — while watching television has gone down, overall screen time has gone up," according to Tracie Barnett, an epidemiologist and lead author of the AHA's latest advisory. "We wanted to see how that would influence patterns of sedentary behavior. Even though we have new screen-based recreational devices now, we are just as sedentary."
Teens are the most sedentary children, according to the AHA, spending the most total time on games and onscreen media. Overall, though, screen time increases dramatically with age.
Experts believe the younger the child, the better it is to start introducing healthy habits, particularly since parents have a greater influence over what their kids do. Removing TV screens and other recreational screen-based devices from bedrooms and keeping them away during meal times might help.
Parents can also encourage their children to engage in outdoor activities and device-free social interactions regularly. It's important to practice what one preaches, though: parents must also set a good example for their children.
American Heart Association's Screen Time Recommendations For Kids
Barnett says children under 6 years of age should spend no longer than one hour of screen time, while those over 6 years of age shouldn't spend over two hours. Those under 2 years of age should have no screen time at all.
That being said, the long-term effects of prolonged screen time just aren't known yet. There's also an insufficient amount of research on how to help children be less sedentary, add to that the fact that screens are extremely appealing, and that it's very difficult to convince them to pay attention elsewhere.
"Screens are ubiquitous, but reinforcing and respecting some strategies and rules at home that everyone can adhere to really works," according to Barnett.
For parents who don't know how to get started, the American Academy of Pediatrics has a convenient online tool to create a personalized media use plan for the whole family.