A new study has found an association between excessive screen use and a lower level of brain development among preschool-aged children.
The study, which was published on Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, used a special type of MRI called diffusion tensor imaging to scan white matter in the 47 participants’ brains, and made several alarming finds — particularly relating to the development of language, literacy and cognitive skills.
To start, participants completed a cognitive test, while their parents completed a survey called ScreenQ that informed researchers how much time and what type of content their children were using screens to view.
Children with higher ScreenQ scores measured lower in structural integrity and myelination, the latter of which is the “coating of connections between nerve cells with a fatty substance” that “insulates the nerve cells and increases the efficiency of signaling,” according to The bioreports.
Meanwhile, children with higher ScreenQ scores also had “poorer expressive language and did worse on tests of language processing speed, like rapidly naming objects,” the Times reported.
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“This is the first study to document associations between higher screen use and lower measures of brain structure and skills in preschool-aged kids,” lead author Dr. John Hutton, a pediatrician and clinical researcher at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, said, according to Bioreports.
He continued: “This is important because the brain is developing the most rapidly in the first five years. That’s when brains are very plastic and soaking up everything, forming these strong connections that last for life.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids have limited screen use due to the possible cognitive behavioral risks, including language delay, poor sleep and impaired executive function, according to the study.
The study was conducted from August 2017 to November 2018 on participants recruited at a U.S. children’s hospital, and took pains to note that screen time implications for brain development on young kids still remain unknown despite found associations.
The World Health Organization’s latest recommendations say kids younger than 1 should have no screen time, while children under 5 should stick to an hour or less.
Still, for parents who can’t avoid the screens, David Hill, a pediatrician who helped write the American Academy of Pediatrics’ 2016 guidelines, previously told PEOPLE that they should show their kids shows like Sesame Street, which help the child learn some skills.
“All content should be deliberately chosen,” Sierra Filucci, editorial director for Common Sense Media, added to PEOPLE. “Background TV isn’t the best choice because it can limit conversation and expose kids to content they’re not ready for.