More physical activity, less screen time linked to better executive function in children, study finds | Carl Illinois College of Medicine

A new study has explored whether adherence to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ guidelines for diet and physical activity has anything to do with young children’s ability to remember, plan, pay attention, switch between tasks and regulate their thoughts and behavior, a set of skills known as executive. Function.

The study reported in the Journal of Pediatrics, that 24-month-olds who spent less than 60 minutes looking at screens each day and those who engaged in daily physical activity had better executive function than those who didn’t adhere to the guidelines.

Sharon Donovan, Carl Illinois College of Medicine, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Sharon Donovan

“Executive function is the foundation of your ability to engage in goal-directed behaviors,” said University of Illinois professor Urbana-Champaign. Niman Khan from the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health, who led the study with graduate student Arden McMath and Sharon Donovan, Professor in the Department of Biomedical and Translational Sciences at Carl Illinois University College of Medicine as well as the Department of human nutrition. “It includes abilities such as inhibitory control, which allows you to regulate your thoughts, emotions, and behavior; working memory, through which you can hold information in your mind long enough to complete a task; and cognitive flexibility, the dexterity with which you move your attention between competing tasks or demands.”

“We wanted to test the hypothesis that a healthy weight status and adherence to the AAP guidelines for diet and physical activity would extend to greater executive function in 24-month-olds,” McMath said.

Through the Bright Futures Initiative, the AAP recommends that children spend less than 60 minutes looking at screens each day, engage in daily physical activity, consume five or more servings of fruits and vegetables and reduce or limit consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

McMath said that previous studies have linked adherence to guidelines for levels of physical activity, screen time and diet quality with executive function in school-aged children or teens.

“We focused on an earlier period in a child’s development to see if and how these relationships start early in life,” she said.

Families of 356 young children in the new research participate in STRONG KIDS 2 . Study Group In the U. of I., A long-term look at the correlative factors that predict the dietary habits and weight trajectories of children followed from birth to age 5 years. The study uses parental questionnaires and data on children collected at eight time points over the five years, including when children are 24 months old.

Two teachers standing in front of the playground
Arden McMath, left, Maiman Khan and colleagues found that young children who spend less than 60 minutes looking at screens or engage in more than 60 minutes of exercise per day tend to have better executive function than young children who do not meet these guidelines. (Photo by Fred Zwicky)

“The surveys asked parents to report on several aspects of their children’s daily habits, including how much time they spend watching screens, how physically active they are, whether they have at least five servings of fruits and vegetables, and whether they abstain from drinking sugar. Sweetened drinks,” McMath said.

The parents also responded to a standard survey designed to measure executive function in young children. These questions asked them to rate their children’s ability to plan and organize their thoughts, regulate their emotional responses, inhibit impulses, remember information, and shift attention between tasks.

The team used a structural equation modeling technique to assess the direct and indirect relationships between adherence to AAP guidelines and executive function in young children.

“We found that young children who spent less than 60 minutes of screen time per day had significantly greater ability to effectively control their cognition than those who spent more time staring at phones, tablets, televisions and computers,” McMath said. “They had greater inhibitory control, working memory, and overall executive function.”

Researchers found that young children who engaged in daily physical activity performed significantly better on tests of working memory than those who did not.

While the study found no significant relationship between children’s weight status and executive function, the authors wrote that “associations between healthy behaviors and executive function may precede the observed relationships between executive function and weight status” in older children.

“The impact of engaging in healthy behaviors on cognitive abilities appears to be evident in early childhood, particularly for behaviors surrounding physical activity and sitting time,” Khan said.

The STRONG KIDS 2 cohort study was funded in part by the National Dairy Council, the National Institutes of Health, the Gerber Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Christopher Family Foundation.

The original version of this article was published by the Illinois News Bureau and can be found here over here.

Editor’s Notes:
To contact Naiman Khan, send an email to
To contact Arden McMath, send an email to
The paper “Screen time adherence and physical activity guidelines are associated with executive function of US young children participating in the STRONG Kids 2 birth cohort study” is available. Online It is from the United States of I. News Bureau.
DOI: 10.1016 / j.jpeds.2022.08.026

Media contact: Diana Yates,

Leave a Comment