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Young children who receive more screen time than doctors recommend have differences in parts of the brain that support language and self-regulation, a study at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center found.

It's unclear how the changes affect the child's development, the researchers say.

The study placed 47 healthy children in the Cincinnati area between 3 and 5 years of age by magnetic resonance imaging of their brain as well as by cognitive examination. While the study did not learn how screen time changes brains, it does indicate that skills such as speed of brain processing are affected.

"The use of on-screen media is widespread and increasing in homes, kindergartens and schools at a young age," says Dr. John Hutton, author of the study and director of the Reading and Detection Center literacy at Cincinnati Children's Hospital.

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"These findings emphasize the need to understand the effects of brain screen time, especially in the stages of dynamic brain development in infancy, so the providers, watered and parents can set healthy boundaries, "he says.

The Cincinnati Children study was published in JAMA Pediatrics and follows a series of studies published this year on the effects of screen time on the youngest.

A Canadian study published in April found that screen time was approximately n affecting attention span in preschoolers. A March study found that using mobile phones can delay expressive language in 18-month-old children. Another JAMA pediatric study in April found that screen time can influence how a child performs on a developmental test.

A study at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center shows that young children who use the screen environment more than the recommended amount have changes in the brain's white matter, which affects language and self-regulation. This brain image shows tracts of white matter of lower structural integrity associated with more screen time in these children. The affected areas are blue. (Photo: Provided)

The Cincinnati Children study estimated screen time using recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics. For example, the academy suggests that children under 18 months of age should avoid all screen media except video chat. Parents should watch the digital media and watch it with their children.

For children between 2 and 5 years of age, AAP recommends limiting screen time to one hour per day. Parents should mention times without media, such as dinner or driving, and places without media at home, such as bedrooms.

Children in the Cincinnati study completed standard cognitive tests and a special test called Diffusion NMR, which assesses the integrity of white matter in the brain.

Researchers give parents in the study a 15-item screening tool based on AAP media recommendations. These results are compared to the results of cognitive tests and MRI measures controlling for age, gender and household income.

Higher scores in the screening tool were significantly associated with lower expressive language, ability to name objects quickly, or processing speed and early reading skills, the study found.

In addition, the higher results were also associated with the lower integrity of the white matter of the brain, which affects the organization and myelination – the process of forming a myelin sheath around a nerve to allow impulses to move along faster, in tracts involving language executive function and other literacy skills.

Hutton said: "While we still cannot determine whether screen time causes these structural changes or implies long-term neurodevelopmental risks, these findings require further study to understand what it means and how to determine appropriate usage restrictions. of technology. "

Hutton stated that his team had several follow-up papers in the work of including a study showing the useful links between home reading practices and brain development in preschoolers. The work is based on five other studies published by the Hutton team since 2015 to link home reading with brain development before kindergarten.

Hutton stated that he wanted to do a larger study beginning at an early age, but that would depend on receiving funding for the study.

The Cincinnati Children's Research Foundation funded the research with a Procter Scientist Award.

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