CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — A new study from the University of Illinois finds that toddlers who spend more than 60 minutes looking at screens have lower executive function than those that did not.

Naiman Khan, a kinesiology and community health professor, led the study along with food science and human nutrition professor Sharon Donovan and graduate student Arden McMath.

The study includes 365 toddlers who were participants in the STRONG KIDS 2 cohort study at the university. The study looked at dietary habits and weight trajectories of children from birth to five years old, and focused on screen time with children younger than two. Researchers said it collected data from children eight times over a five-year period.

McMath said it’s unique because, in other studies, researchers commonly focus on elementary-aged kids and screen time, not those under two.

“The surveys asked parents to report on several aspects of their child’s daily habits, including how much time they looked at screens, how physically active they were, whether they had at least five servings of fruits and vegetables and whether they refrained from drinking sugar-sweetened beverages,” McMath said. “We wanted to test the hypothesis that healthy weight status and adherence to the AAP guidelines for diet and physical activity would extend to greater executive function in 24-month-old children.”

“Executive function underlies your ability to engage in goal-directed behaviors,” Khan said. “It includes abilities such as inhibitory control, which allows you to regulate your thoughts, emotions and behavior; working memory, by which you are able to hold information in mind long enough to accomplish a task; and cognitive flexibility, the adeptness with which you switch your attention between tasks or competing demands.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children spend less than 60 minutes looking at screens each day, engage in physical activity, consume five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day and cut down the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

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

“We focused on an earlier period in child development to see whether and how early in life these relationships begin,” she said.

The study focused on toddlers’ abilities to remember, plan, pay attention, shift between tasks, regulation of thoughts and behavior and executive function.