A new study revealed prolonged exposure to hand-held screens, including smartphones, tablets and electronic games, could delay the speech development of children.

The study, to be presented at Pediatric Academic Societies 2017 Meeting, showed that the more time a child spent in hand-held screens, the higher the risk of expressive speech delay.

"While new pediatric guidelines suggest limiting screen time for babies and toddlers, we believe that the use of smartphones and tablets with young children has become quite common," said Dr. Catherine Birken, MD, MSc, FRCPC, a staff pediatrician and scientist at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) and principal investigator of the study, in a press release. "This is the first study to report an association between hand-held screen time and increased risk of expressive language delay."

For the study, the researchers analyzed the data of 894 children between six months and two years old. These children were participating in a practice-based research network known as "TARGet Kids!," which occurred in Toronto between 2011 and 2015.

The parents of the children were asked to report their child's average daily usage of hand-held screens. By their 18th month check-up, about 20 percent of the children have an average screen time of 28 minutes. Based on a screening tool for language delay, the researchers found that the likelihood of delay in expressive speech development is higher in children with more screen time. 

The researchers observed that there was a 49 percent increased risk of expressive speech delay for each 30-minute increased exposure to hand-held screens. Surprisingly, the researchers did not found any apparent link between the child's screen time and other communication delays, including body language and social interactions.

Despite the clear connection between a child's screen time and speech delay, the researchers noted that their research did not establish a clear causal relationship between the two. Further research and clinical trials are needed in order to develop clear and sound recommendations for parents and clinicians.