Obesity, poorer motor skills, hyperactivity problems and poor sleep are just some of the effects that may be experienced by pre-school children who exceed New Zealand’s screen-time guidelines, according to the Growing Up in New Zealand study.

The study is the first to analyse New Zealand data on this topic. Researchers at the Auckland University of Technology (AUT) and the University of Auckland analysed screen-time data from more than 5,000 participants from the Growing Up in New Zealand study as they aged from 24 to 54 months.

They found that the average time preschool children spent using screens is about 1.5 hours each day at 2 years of age, increasing to two hours per day when children were 3.75 years of age.

This study showed that children who exceeded the one hour per day screen time guidelines at age 2 years, are more likely to be obese, visit the doctor more, have lower physical motor skills, and may exhibit hyperactivity problems when they reached around 4.5 years.

Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni says the findings show that adhering to the government’s screen time guidelines is linked to better health profiles in New Zealand children.

“Until now, we’ve had to rely on overseas evidence about the effects of screen time on pre-schoolers. This new report provides robust local data that supports the Ministry of Health’s Active Play Guidelines for under-fives.”

The guidelines recommend no sedentary screen time for children younger than 2 years; and less than an hour each day for children aged between 2 and 5 years.

“Children have unprecedented access to screen based devices – from smart phones to televisions and tablets. While some screen time can be beneficial for learning, that time needs to be balanced with regular physical activity and outside play, which we know are key to children’s development.”

“The findings will contribute to the well-being of our children in the future by raising awareness among parents and carers about the importance of limiting young children’s screen time.

Growing Up In New Zealand is the country’s largest longitudinal study of child development gathering information over time about what it’s like to grow up in 21st century New Zealand. The University of Auckland study is following a cohort of more than 6,800 children born in 2009 and 2010. It is funded by the Ministry of Social Development’s Children and Families Research Fund. The Government restored more than $1.9 million of funding to the Growing Up in New Zealand study last year.

The full report can be found here. The Ministry of Health’s Active Play Guidelines were published in May 2017 and are available here.


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