Why has the API commissioned this report?

The API commissioned Dr Aric Sigman, a leading expert on the effects of screen time on children, to draw together the growing body of evidence showing the effects that less play and more screens are having on children. It is the first time all the relevant scientific and medical data has been collated in this way so that we can more fully understand the impact of discretionary screen time (DST) on play and children’s development.

What are the main points of the campaign?

  • There is a strong link between recreational screen time and inactivity; screens are displacing play. Children have never moved less or sat indoors on screens more.
  • This trend can be reversed by cutting discretionary screen time.
  • At the same time, there has been an alarming decline in free-to-use outdoor play facilities. As most people live in urban areas, playgrounds are crucial to children’s activity and investment in playgrounds is needed particularly in deprived areas.
  • Parents need information, support and guidance in a) setting limits on their children’s screen time and b) the importance of outdoor play in healthy child development.
  • This is a public health issue.

How many hours per day do children have of screen time?

Children’s screen time has increased by 50% in less than ten years, so that by the age of eight, children will have spent nearly one full year of 24-hour days looking at a screen. 90% of British children aged two-four years old don’t meet the basic minimum movement requirements.

What are the effects of too much screen time?

Another study of 575 mothers of children aged two – five years old found that television/DVD/video viewing may be adversely, and outdoor play favourably, associated with preschool children’s social skills. Researchers found that play and physical activity provides opportunities for conversation, cooperation and conflict management, important social skills learnt through everyday play. Screen time may limit opportunities for social interaction. Screen time is also linked to sleep deprivation and poorer quality sleep, reducing children’s ability to be calm and therefore their ability to be compliant and behave appropriately in social situations. (Hinkley et al 2018).

A Canadian study found that children aged seven to 14 who spent more time outdoors are more physically active and less sedentary and display enhanced psychosocial health compared with those who spend times indoors. (Larouche et al 2016, 2017).

What is Dr Aric Sigman’s approach to countering the screen time epidemic?

Dr Aric Sigman advocates a back-to-basics approach for children, limiting screen time to two hours per day and encouraging outdoor play and other activities away from screens. Kids are hardwired to play and we are currently defying evolution at great cost to health, while producing a generation of children who are inactive, increasing in body mass, with potentially limited social skills and unable to cope with challenges.

How do the 24-hour movement behaviours work?

Also known as the Sweat, Step, Sleep and Sit system, the 24-hour movement behaviours are based on age and there is parental guidance on how to implement daily activities for children, from screen time to outdoor play, how long, and the intensity of exercise required. The guidelines are also available for adults (up to 64) and older adults (65+).

Why are playgrounds disappearing?

Councils are removing playgrounds following years of austerity. In April 2017, the Association of Play Industries (API) Nowhere to Play report first uncovered the state of playground decline in England, revealing the closure of hundreds of playgrounds. Using the Freedom of Information Act, the API has once again requested local authorities disclose current and planned playground closures and discovered a range of alarming facts, amongst these:

  • By 2020/21 there will have been a 44% decrease in spend on play facilities from 2017/18
  • In 2016/17 local authorities closed 63 playgrounds and in 2017/18 a further 70 playgrounds have been closed.
  • Since 2014 local authorities have closed a total of 347 playgrounds across England.
  • There will be a decrease in spend on playgrounds of over £13m each year on average across England.
  • Local authorities estimate a decrease in their spending on playgrounds of £25m by 2021.

How can we get our playgrounds back?

The API has set up a 38 degrees petition to raise the issue in government and prompt a discussion about child obesity and mental health, and how to address these important and growing issues among children. The API believes now is the time to stop the disappearance of playgrounds before it’s too late and playgrounds are removed, especially from our urban areas where there is limited space for space, forever.