A new study warns of increased childhood toxic stress following the H1N1 Pandemic of 2009 as scientists found screen time did not decrease over time and that some children who were feeling the strain of the swine flu pandemic stayed up for eight hours a day.
It’s believed that the so-called “intense,” or mobile, screen time negatively affects the brain development of young children and teens, particularly developing brains.
The study authors wanted to test how young children’s screen time increased over the course of two years in the year following the outbreak of the pandemic. But after focusing on families in California, the study found that screen time remained largely unchanged.
Researchers interviewed parents and their young children within six months of the outbreak. Researchers tested children for sleep and their chemistry during the study, and students’ test scores.
In examining the kids’ sleep, the study authors found that children who were prone to irritability were less sleepy, and their stress levels decreased significantly during the same time period. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, irritability is considered a symptom of stress.
However, researchers found that the children who were still more irritable by the end of the study remained the same as their irritability level as a year prior to the study.
The researchers looked at how much screen time children were watching on a variety of devices, especially TVs, computers and electronic tablets. They also analyzed how children were sleeping.
During the study, there were 150,160 reports of flu cases in California between April and December of 2009. Of those cases, 19,400 children were in nursing homes, residences and homes for people with disabilities or who were ill. Of the reported cases, three in 10 were hospitalized, and three in 10 of those were under age five. In comparison, at least 81,500 U.S. children died of flu related causes in the year following the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.
Additionally, children under the age of 1 year were the most likely group to be hospitalized.
Study authors suggest that next year, they would like to address the impact that TV time has on growing children and teens, and the impact of regular screen time on the brains of young children.
Researchers were led by Dr. Madhav Goyal, professor of pediatrics and director of pediatric sleep medicine at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, in the state of California.