Toddlers and young children who spend more than three hours a day viewing a screen, either watching TV or playing on a tablet, are more likely to be sedentary by the time they reach kindergarten-age, a new study found.

Researchers from the National University of Singapore suggest limiting the exposure of toddlers and young children to screens may result in healthier behaviors later in life.

The findings published Tuesday in the peer-reviewed journal Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, are based on monitoring the screen time of 500 toddlers and preschool-aged children in Singapore. 

Parents were asked to report their children’s exposure to video games or shows on televisions, computers or handheld devices such as a laptops or tablets. At the age of five, the children were given an activity tracker, which monitored their physical activity, how much they were sedentary and their sleeping habits.

On average, researchers found children in the study spent 2.5 hours a day on screens, with television occupying the longest viewing time. A third of screen time was on handheld devices. Only a few children spent less than an hour in front of a screen.

Children who spent more than three hours in front of a screen spent a half-hour less doing light physical activity and 10 minutes less doing moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA).

Bozhi Chen, a researcher at the National University of Singapore who co-authored the study, said in a statement the research strengthens existing associations between screen time and children’s health.

“Our findings support public health efforts to reduce screen viewing time in young children and suggest further research into the long term effects of screen viewing on movement behaviors is needed,” she said.


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