MEDICALLY REVIEWED

Impact of Excessive Screen Time and Sugary Food on Child Brain Development

sugar sugary screen time infants philippines manila

Dr Michelle Sy, a distinguished fellow in the Child Neurology Society of the Philippines, warned about the potential adverse effects of excessive screen time and high sugary foods on a child’s brain development. 

She emphasised that the human brain undergoes rapid development, particularly between the ages of 2 and 3, making this period critical for establishing healthy neural pathways. Excessive screen time and sugar intake have been associated with affecting brain development.

Impact of Screen Time

Dr Sy highlighted the detrimental impact of prolonged screen time on a child’s developing brain. She explained that excessive exposure to rapid image changes during this crucial developmental phase can wire the brain to expect constant stimulation. This can lead to issues such as inattention and reduced cognitive abilities. Moreover, excessive screen time may deprive children of essential social experiences, play, and movement, vital for optimal brain growth and development.

Link to Intellectual Disability

Citing a study published by the National Institute of Health, Sy underscored the association between early screen exposure and lower cognitive abilities. She also pointed out how it can affect the children’s academic performance in later years. This correlation raises concerns about the long-term implications of excessive screen time on intellectual development and overall well-being.

Prevalence of Intellectual Disability

According to data from the Department of Health, there were approximately 1.4 million reported cases of disabilities in the Philippines as of January 2024. It has been recorded to have 93,142 cases attributed to intellectual disability. Intellectual disability is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by deficits in intellectual and adaptive functioning. This often manifests in childhood and persists into adulthood.

Understanding the Causes

Sy elaborated on various factors contributing to intellectual disability. These include genetic conditions, prenatal exposure to toxins, diseases, injuries acquired after birth, and insufficient medical care. However, she noted that a significant portion of cases have unknown causes, highlighting the complexity of intellectual disability aetiology.

Role of Nutrition

In addition to minimising screen time, Sy emphasised the importance of nutrition in supporting optimal brain development in children. She recommended a diet rich in essential nutrients, including vitamins A and D, protein, iron, folate, and iodine. Moreover, Sy stressed the importance of reducing sugar intake during early childhood. Excessive sugar consumption has been linked to adverse effects on learning ability, memory, and concentration.

Supporting Children with Intellectual Disabilities

Sy emphasised the critical role of family and community support in nurturing children with intellectual disabilities. Providing skill development and inclusion opportunities can empower these individuals to lead fulfilling lives and contribute meaningfully to society. By fostering a supportive environment, families and communities can help children with intellectual disabilities thrive and reach their full potential as they transition into adulthood.

Educational Strategies and Intervention

Sy advocated for early intervention and educational strategies tailored to the needs of children with intellectual disabilities. Educators and caregivers can support the cognitive and socio-emotional development of children with intellectual disabilities. This can be done by implementing individualised education plans, providing specialised therapies, and promoting inclusive education practices. Additionally, collaborative efforts between healthcare professionals, educators, and community organisations are essential for facilitating holistic support and maximising the potential of children with intellectual disabilities.

Promoting Healthy Screen Time Habits

Sy urged parents and caregivers to establish healthy screen time habits early in light of concerns about excessive screen time. This includes setting limits on screen time, prioritising interactive and educational content, and encouraging alternative activities such as outdoor play and creative expression. By modelling positive screen time behaviour and fostering a balanced lifestyle, parents can help mitigate the potential negative effects of screen time on their children’s brain development and overall well-being.

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