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Guelph Family Health Study leading the charge in researching how stress impacts family health-Part 2

September 21, 2020

Author: Candace Aqui, MPH, RD, Program and Policy Consultant at Nutrition Connections

In this 4-part blog series, Nutrition Connections is featuring important and timely research findings from the Guelph Family Health Study (GFHS), a long-term study following families over many years to learn new ways to help families set healthy routines for eating, activity, sleep and screen time at home.  The series will feature research in the areas of impact of COVID-19 on families, food waste, stress and obesity, and stress and screen time.

Depending on what generation you were born into, you may remember using phones that were plugged into the wall, watching a television that wasn’t “smart”, and writing a letter to your family member living in another city. Video telephone calls were only found in futuristic movies. Today, most of our communication happens through some sort of device with a screen. And we take them wherever we go. Media devices such as the smartphones, tablets and laptops are everywhere, and the way we use them is having an impact on our health. Are screens helping us manage our stressful lives, or contributing to it?

The Guelph Family Health Study (GFHS) Research Team is leading the way in looking at how stress affects our family’s health and lifestyle behaviours. In this blog, we highlight GFHS research that looked at how parents’ stress levels may affect how they manage their children’s screen time (the amount of time a child spends in front of a device with screen, such as a television, computer, tablet or smartphone).1 The researchers were particularly interested in how family-based stress impacted the following media parenting practices:

  • Setting limits for children’s screen time;
  • Monitoring screen use;
  • Using screens during mealtimes;
  • Role-modelling screen use; and,
  • Using screens to control children’s behaviour.1

Three types of stress were under investigation: general life stress, parenting distress, and overall household chaos. Although mothers and fathers reported similar levels of stress, there were differences in how stress was associated with their screen parenting behaviours. For example,  mothers experiencing parenting distress were less likely to monitor or limit their children’s screen time and more likely use screens in front of their children. Fathers were also less likely to limit their children’s screen time, but were more likely to allow use of screens at mealtimes.1 Due to the sample size and lack of diversity among study participants (most participants identified as Caucasian), the results may not be representative of all families.1 However, even with a small sample, the researchers found that mothers and fathers may use different strategies to deal with stress.1

For more info on the results and considerations, check out the plain language summaries below for health professionals (on the left) and the general public (on the right). Please take a moment and provide some feedback on the summaries, by completing the popup survey.

The amount of time Canadian children spend in front of screens is higher than the recommended limits of 60 minutes,2,3 which may contribute to increasing the risk of developing chronic diseases.4,5 ParticipACTION has identified families as the “critical influencers in children’s physical activity and healthy habits.”6 While this may be true, it’s important to recognize that we cannot always control the events that create stress in our lives. COVID-19 is a perfect example of that.

The pandemic has impacted our ability to maintain our routines, but families are figuring out ways to manage stress, as noted in the GFHS COVID-19 research (read about it here). Further research on the lifestyle interventions that help families thrive is needed.  Nutrition Connections is proud to be working with the GFHS to raise awareness, share the knowledge and support efforts to move the needle towards optimal health for all.

References:

1.Tang L, Hruska V,  Ma DLW, Haines J & on behalf of the Guelph Family Health Study (2020) Parenting under pressure: stress is associated with mothers’ and fathers’ media parenting practices in Canada, Journal of Children and Media, DOI: 10.1080/17482798.2020.1765821

2.Pujadas Botey, A., Bayrampour, H., Carson, V., Vinturache, A., & Tough, S. (2016). Adherence to Canadian physical activity and sedentary behaviour guidelines among children 2 to 13 years of age. Preventive Medicine Reports, 3, 14–20.

3.Janssen, I., Roberts, K. C., & Thompson, W. (2017). Adherence to the 24-Hour Movement Guidelines among 10- to 17-year-old Canadians. Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention in Canada, 37(11), 369–375.

4.Christakis, D., & Zimmerman, F. (2009). Young children and media: Limitations of current knowledge and future directions for research. American Behavioral Scientist, 52(8), 1177–1185.

5.Ponti, M.,Bélanger, S., Grimes, R., Heard, J., Johnson, M., Moreau, E., Norris, M., Shaw, A., Stanwick, R., Van Lankveld, J., Williams, R.. Screen time and young children: Promoting health and development in a digital world. Paediatrics & child health, November 2017, Vol.22(8), pp.461–477.

6.ParticipACTION. The Role of the Family in the Physical Activity, Sedentary and Sleep Behaviours of Children and Youth. The 2020 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth. Toronto: ParticipACTION; 2020.