Originally published Oct. 31, 2021 by MyNorthwest.

By Stephanie Klein

Parents, your suspicion is now backed up by a study from the University of Washington which confirms more physical activity and less screen time leads to better mental health for children.

(Pause so you can ask them to get off their phones and go outside.)

The UW study tracked the daily activities of 1,000 children ranging from ages 6-17 from Oct. 22 to Nov. 2, 2020. At the time, the United States was in the midst of a third wave of new COVID-19 cases and most of the students in the study were learning fully online (50.6%) or in a hybrid model (27.2%).

Families reported a daily average of about 4.4 hours of recreational screen time for their children, which was consistent with pre-pandemic estimates.

“I think what the pandemic forced upon families was screen time was needed for school in most cases,” said Dr. Pooja Tandon, an associate professor of pediatrics at the UW School of Medicine, and the study’s lead author. “Screen time was also sometimes the only way for social interaction for children. So the recreational screen time was more than optional in some cases.”

More screen time means less time for playing outside. Additionally, only 195 kids in the study of 1,000 reported 60 minutes of daily exercise. On average, kids got about 60 minutes of activity 3.9 days per week.

Out of the 1,000 kids studied, 143 were diagnosed or being evaluated for anxiety, 110 for depression, 160 for ADHD, and 116 for a behavioral problem. Researchers say less activity and more screen time was associated with higher rates of each condition across all ages.

The study also took pandemic-related stressors into account, and children most affected were even less engaged in physical activity and more involved with screens.

“I recognize that this is an incredibly challenging time for parents, and I think there are opportunities as families for us to just prioritize these health behaviors, knowing that it’s important for both physical health and mental health,” Tandon said.

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