The study took place in the U.S, where children from 20 schools received cognition tests that aimed to measure their abilities.
As it turns out, kids who capped recreational screen time (i.e., screen time not related to schoolwork) at 120 minutes scored better on language ability, episodic memory, executive function, attention, working memory and processing speed.
Improvements in cognition were associated with each additional recommendation met, with limited screen time and sleep having the strongest correlation to improvement.
Canadian researchers looked at the first bits of data from a 10-year-long USA project meant to study how children's brains develop over time, called the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development study (or more cleverly, the ABCD study). The study considered ethnicity, Body mass index (BMI), household income and, if any, traumatic brain injury.
"The more individual recommendations the child met, the better their cognition", the study concluded and noted that the most important factor was screen time.
For sleep and exercise, the recommendations align with those of the World Health Organization, but Canada is the first country to propose limits for time spent in front of a back-lit screen. Also, because the questionnaires were used only at the onset of the study, they don't show the effects of these behaviors - or cognitive development - over time.
She suggested that future research could benefit from using data collection methods that provide more precise results than questionnaires which rely on self-reported information. "The link between sedentary behaviours, like recreational screen time, is unclear as this research is in the early stages and it appears to vary depending on the types of screen-based activity".
The researchers did note that the findings from the study do come with some limitations, in part due to the observational nature of the study. More than 50% skipped on the recommended amount of sleep, (ranging between nine and eleven hours per night), and only 18% exercise for one hour per day. In the case of evening screen use, this displacement may also be compounded by impairment of sleep quality.
The article's co-author, Dr Jeremy Walsh, explained in a podcast that "regardless of content, keeping our screen time to less than two hours per day might be beneficial for cognitive health".
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