If a toddler spends a lot of time playing on a mobile phone or tablet, it may delay when they start talking, researchers have warned. 

New research, which will be presented on Saturday at the annual Paediatric Academic Societies Meeting in San Francisco, suggests that for every 30 minutes a day a child spends looking at a handheld screen, the risk of a delay in expressive speech was increased by 50 per cent.

Researchers studied 894 children aged between six months and two years in Toronto over a three year period. By their 18 month check-up, 20 per cent of the children spent roughly 28 minutes a day using a handheld device, according to their parents. 

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Using a screening tool, researchers found that the more handheld screen time a child’s parent reported, the more likely the child was to have delays in expressive speech, concluding that for each 30 minute increase in screen time, a child was 49 per cent more likely to be at risk of expressive speech delay.

There were no other apparent links between screen time and other communication delays including social interactions and body language.

Dr Catherine Birken, the lead investigator and a staff paediatrician and scientist at The Hospital for Sick Children in California, said that although there re guidelines for limiting screen time for children “we believe that the use of smartphones and tablets with young children has become quite common”.

She supported a recent policy recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics to discourage any type of screen media in children younger than 18 months.

The study did not prove a direct cause and effect and the researchers called for further studies into the issue.  

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