Counselling parents on reducing their preschoolers' screen time failed to reduce obesity or screen time in the children, a Canadian study finds.

Researchers looking for ways to prevent childhood obesity think that focusing on preschoolers is a good strategy since parents have control over kids' feeding and activity at that age.

What's more, they say children who learn to practice healthy behaviours are likely to stick to those when they become adults.

A team of doctors based on Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children randomly assigned 160 families to two groups. One received a short counselling session on the impact of screen time — time watching television, DVDs, videos or playing computer and video games — with tips to decrease it. Those in the control group received information about internet safety.

After a year, there was no difference in screen time between the two groups, which was the main purpose of the study, the researchers reported in Monday's issue of the journal Pediatrics.

"If you look at children now, it's not just the screen, it's handheld devices, it's video games," said study author Dr. Catherine Birken, a pediatrician and researcher at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. "Children are bombarded and targeted to encourage screen time use."

This study took advantage of scheduled visits to doctors' offices at age three to test a short, practical intervention aimed at reducing screen time. Other researchers have used 18 hour-long counselling sessions at daycare.

"For this sort of intervention to be effective, you probably need to be bombarded," with anti-screen time messages from multiple sources like doctors and daycares, Birken said.

The group who received 10-minutes of counselling from research assistants ate fewer meals in front of the television, the researchers found.

Older children who eat meals while watching TV may not be able to read their own internal cues of fullness and may eat larger portions and less healthy foods, the researchers said.

A 2008 study from Quebec suggested nearly a quarter of children reported eating in front of the TV at least twice daily and those who snacked while watching had an increased risk of poor dietary habits like drinking pop.

Turning off the TV

In the Toronto experiment, the number of meals in front of the TV fell to about 1.6 in the counseling group compared with 1.9 meals in the control group.

The suggested strategies to reduce screen time included:

- Removing the TV from the child's bedroom.

- Encouraging meals to be eaten without the TV on.

- Budgeting the child's screen time.

Families were also encouraged to try a week-long TV turn off, when kids who spent days without television were rewarded with stickers.

The researchers also suggested non-TV activities like reading the book The Berenstain Bears and Too Much TV.

Complex behavior changes like reducing screen time may also require developmentally appropriate approaches that change with age, the researchers said.

They called the lack of a standardized way of measuring screen time in preschoolers an important limitation of the research.

The study was funded by a Pediatric Consultants Research Grant at Sick Kids.

ALSO: 7 things you didn't know about toddlers:

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  • Attention-Seeking Children Are Better Learners Later On

    Toddlers who constantly demand ""look at me!" are most likely to become better collaborators and learners when they're older, a study published in the journal <em>Child Development</em> found. <a href="http://www.redorbit.com/news/health/1112497156/attention-seeking-children-learn-better-later-on/" target="_hplink">Author Marie-Pierre Gosselin said that</a>, "Toddlers whose parents have consistently responded positively to their attention-seeking expect interactions to be fulfilling. As a result, they're eager to collaborate with their parents' attempts to socialize them."

  • It's Not Their Fault They're Selfish

    Researchers studied the behavior and brain scan images of kids while they played with others, were given rewards and prompted to share with their playmates. <a href="http://vitals.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/03/07/10602433-selfish-kids-blame-it-on-their-immature-brains" target="_hplink">The findings revealed that</a>, "even though young children understood how sharing benefited the other child, they were unable to resist the temptation to make the 'selfish' decision to keep much of the reward for themselves." But thankfully, as a child's brain matures, so will the child. "Brain scans revealed a region that matures along with children's greater ability to make less selfish decisions," the study found.

  • Snorers Might Later Become Hyperactive

    Children who snore or have sleep apnoea are more likely to be hyperactive by the age of 7. <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-17237576" target="_hplink">Researcher, Dr. Karen Bonuck said</a> a toddler's "sleep problems could be harming the developing brain."

  • They Hear Their Own Words Differently

    <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2011/12/23/toddlers-hear-their-own-words-differently-says-study/" target="_hplink">According to Ewen MacDonald</a> of the Technical University of Denmark, adults monitor their voices so that the sound reflects what is intended. But, "2-year-olds do not monitor their auditory feedback like adults do, suggesting they are using a different strategy to control speech production," he said.

  • Missed Naps Could Lead To Mood Disorders

    <a href="http://news.yahoo.com/missed-naps-could-put-toddlers-risk-mood-disorders-140406546.html" target="_hplink">Researchers found that depriving toddlers of a daily nap</a> led to "more anxiety, lower levels of joy and interest, and reduced problem-solving abilities." Kids in the focus group who missed naps were not able to "take full advantage of exciting and interesting experiences and to adapt to new frustrations."

  • They Succumb To Peer Pressure

    Two-year-olds in a focus group "were more likely to copy an action when they saw it repeated by three other toddlers than if they saw an action repeated by just one other toddler," a study published in the journal Current Biology found.

  • Their Memories Are Better Than You Think

    <a href="http://www.slate.com/articles/life/family/2012/04/children_s_memories_toddlers_remember_better_than_you_think_.html" target="_hplink">In a recent Slate article</a>, Nicholas Day illustrated a timeline of what scientists have learned about toddlers' memories over the last few decades. Before the 80s, it was believed that babies and young toddlers lived in the present with no memory of the past. Twenty years ago, however, a study found that 3-year-olds could recount memories of Disney World 18 months after they visited. And recently, <a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2011.01699.x/abstract" target="_hplink">research noted</a> a "27-month-old child who'd seen a 'magic shrinking machine' remembered the experience some six years later."