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New Study: Researchers Determine Excessive Screen Time During Early Childhood Impacts Cognitive and Behavioral Skills for Children Born Pre-Term

The findings support the need for health care professionals to communicate the effects of prolonged screen time

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — A new study by researchers from a national research network on newborn babies, including RTI International, a nonprofit research institute that served as the Data Coordinating Center (DCC), found that children ages 6-7 who were born pre-term and exposed to more than two hours of screen time a day experienced impacts on their IQ, problem-solving skills and attention span. The study was published earlier this week in JAMA Pediatrics and supports the need for physicians to discuss the impact of screen time with families of infants born extremely pre-term — at or before 28-weeks.

“Although previous studies have linked screen time with developmental problems for children born full-term, this study is the first to shed light on the impacts for children born extremely pre-term,” said Carla Bann, Ph.D., Senior Fellow at RTI, and a co-author on the study. “We know that pre-term children are already likely to experience cognitive and behavioral deficits — our research shows that coupled with high amounts of screen time, these issues could be intensified.”

Compared to children with less screen time per day, in adjusted analyses, those with high screen time scored an average of nearly 8 points higher on global executive function percentile scores, roughly 0.8 points lower on impulse control (inhibition) and more than 3 points higher on inattention, all reflecting increased risk of greater deficits.

“We hope that our research highlights the need for physicians to have more intentional conversations with families of pre-term children about the risks excessive screen time could present in early childhood,” said Abhik Das, Ph.D., Distinguished Fellow at RTI, and Principal Investigator for the DCC. “As more aspects of day-to-day life continue to shift to online platforms, screen time will inevitably increase, which means that it is important to ensure these findings are available to families and providers.”

The researchers studied 414 children who were born pre-term and evaluated them at 6-7 years of age. The group included 238 children who were exposed to two hours of screen time a day and 266 children who had a television or computer in their bedroom. This study was a secondary analysis from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Surfactant Positive Airway Pressure and Pulse Oximetry Randomized Trial (SUPPORT) Neuroimaging and Neurodevelopmental Outcomes school-aged cohort. The study was conducted from 2012 to 2016 and the data was analyzed between 2018 and 2021.

The study was funded by NICHD; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; and National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.

View the full study