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Screen time has more than doubled for babies, thanks mostly to TV

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Screen time for children ages 0-2 more than doubled from 1997 to 2014, according to a new report from Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics.

The bottom line: The study found that most of the uptick came from screen time spent on television. In total, TV consumption has more than doubled in percentage points of overall consumption of screen time from 1997 to 2014.

Why it matters: This means that the screen-time increase might not be the result of an onslaught of new technologies, but rather caused by changes in parental interactions because of work schedules or other socio-economic factors.

  • To that end, the study notes that the 2014 high screen-user group was dominated by boys and children with low parental education level and family income.
  • The authors recommend that future research examine the association between screen time and other "child development supplement measures," such as parenting style and sibling and peer influence.

By the numbers: In 1997, daily screen time averaged 1.32 hours for children aged 0 to 2 years and 2.47 hours for children aged 3 to 5 years. By 2014, total screen time among children aged 0 to 2 years had risen to 3.05 hours per day. In comparison with other devices, screen time allocated to television comes in highest.

  • In 1997, the study found that on average, children ages 0-2 and ages 3-5 watched television for roughly 43% and 48% of their screen exposure, respectively.
  • In 2014, the study found that on average, children ages 0-2 and ages 3-5 watched television for roughly 86% and 78% of their screen exposure, respectively.

Yes, but: Dylan Collins, CEO of children's tech company SuperAwesome, emails that this study stopped measuring viewing habits after a pivotal switch occurred in the media diets of young children.

  • "The real acceleration of decline in kids TV started in 2013/2014 so I think what you're seeing here is the passing of peak kids TV. At this point you were also seeing kids consume content in a multi-screen manner (e.g. tablet + TV on in background)."

The big picture: While there haven't been many long-term studies on the impact of screen time on children's health to date, there has been research that suggests that prolonged screen time can increase risks of obesity in children and can be linked to poorer performance on developmental screening tests later in childhood.