Screens and Eating

We are all on screens much more now then in previous decades. On average, 3-5 year olds use screens 2 hours per day which is double the recommended screen time for this age group. Increased screen time is associated with sedentary behaviour and decreased physical activity.  There are also nutrition consequences to excess screen time, especially if it occurs during meal or snack time.

Forming habits and cognitive development:

The early years are an important time where children develop habits and patterns that can last a lifetime. Excess screen time in childhood has been shown to lead to overuse of screens in later life. Overexposure to screens in the early years is also connected to language delays, cognitive development and short-term memory. By contrast, learning and development is enhanced dramatically by face-to-face interactions with caregivers. When young children are watching screens, stick to the recommended time limits, choose educational over recreational content and watch alongside them so that you can discuss what is being seen and connect it to real life. In these circumstances, there can be positive developmental benefits from screen time.

Screen time and food intake:

Screens during meals or snacks can distract all of us, especially young children, from listening to our body’s cues around hunger and fullness. For some children, this distraction can mean that they eat very little despite feeling hungry whereas for others, it can lead to eating despite feeling full. 

Check out our post on Mindful Eating to understand how to help children pay attention to the food they are eating and how they feel in their bodies.

Research shows that children who are exposed to excess screen time may consume less of the foods recommended for optimal health like vegetables and fruit.

The recommendations:

  • Screen time is not recommended for children under 2.
  • For children 2-5 years old, limit screen time to less than 1 hour per day.
  • Avoid screens for 1 hour before bed.
  • Maintain daily “screen-free” times especially at meals and snacks or reading time.
  • Do not provide screen time in childcare settings for children of any age.

This resource was adapted from: 

The Canadian Pediatric Society:  Screen time and preschool children: Promoting health and development in a digital world