According to Lorna Taylor, director of Jolly Back, modern lifestyles and the increase in technology are having 'detrimental effects' on children's musculoskeletal health. She has warned that if nurseries, schools and families do not address the problem now, it will have 'far-reaching' effects on children.
She said, 'It is vital that we instil healthy habits so children can be comfortable, concentrate, reach their full potential and play and learn, rather than be limited by discomfort, pain and preventable disability.'
Her warning comes after a study of 200 school children found that two-thirds of primary pupils experienced back or neck pain over a year. Experts claim that the findings underline a concern among the medical community about the effects of computers, smartphones and tablets on developing bodies.
The authors of the study, which was commissioned by Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board in Wales, warned that children are facing a health 'time bomb' of back and neck pain caused by the use of digital devices.
Ms Taylor, who helped carry out the study, says that nurseries and childminders should encourage children to adopt safer postures while using technology.
'With ever increasing technology use, and at a younger age, early years settings have an important role to play', she said.
'Children should be encouraged to adopt safer postures if sitting on the floor while using technology and during circle time. Sitting flat on the floor cross-legged forces the pelvis backwards and puts the spine in a bad, damaging C-shaped posture (when viewed from the side).
'Looking down at a screen, accentuates this bad C-shaped posture, and to add to this, when children look up the neck joints are compressed too.
'This can be alleviated by sitting upright, with a healthy S-shaped spine (viewed from the side). A healthy upright S-shape can be encouraged by sitting on a wedge-shaped cushion with legs crossed or out in front.'
Ms Taylor added, 'Nurseries and childminders need to allow and encourage children to sit with their legs to alternate sides. When sitting at a table, ensure the tablet is on a stand so the screen is at an upright angle. When sitting on the floor, the tablet can be supported on cushions on a child's lap so it is higher up.
'One of the most important factors to limit the effects of poor posture is movement; our spines love to move. Children should be active and move position, getting up and moving every ten minutes if sitting.
'Much of this advice reinforces the good practice of activities in many pre-school organisations, but with ever increasing technology use at a younger age, and with 72 per cent of primary children now experiencing back and neck pain, nurseries and pre-school providers have an important role to play.'
At Snapdragons Nursery, children are encouraged to be active while using iPads.
Lyndsey Tanner, manager of Snapdragons' Grosvenor Nursery in Bath, said, 'When we purchased the iPads we never intended for them to be used as static devices.
'We take tablets on trips and use them to get children thinking on their feet. The children also like taking them outside. It's all about how you choose to use the iPads.
'The children and staff take pictures with them and use interactive applications, such as an app where they take pictures of colours to colour in an image.'
Debbie Else, a childminder from Luton, carries out a risk assessment for children using the setting's tablet computer, taking into account lighting and children's posture.
She said, 'When the children are at a table using the iPad, it is propped up by a stand so they are not having to bend over; otherwise, they sit on a chair that supports their back and neck.'
Ms Else said she is very aware of the effect that hunching over a tablet device can have on a child's back or neck, and speaks to parents about how tablets are used at home.
Kids Allowed, a group of nurseries that uses iPads within its settings, limits the time children spend on the devices.The group's chief executive Jennie Johnson said, 'The pre-school children use iPads and computers, but for very limited periods as an adult-led activity. We find most children are already very proficient by the time we introduce the devices and they are clearly using them at home.
'Although they are useful as a teaching aid, we don't rely on them in a nursery context. We would much rather the children be engaging together in more traditional play. We do not use television at all in the nurseries and children are never put in front of the computer or iPad as a lazy activity. If and when they are used, it is an enhancement with a focus and reason.'
She added, 'The iPad is usually passed around a small circle. Children sit crossed-legged or however they are comfortable. Otherwise, the iPad is placed on a table at an angle, not flat.
Gillian Hayward, a childminder from Leeds who runs Oakwood Acorns, says her children only use the iPad to take photos or film videos, so aren't in one position for long.
She explained, 'Because we do not use educational apps on the iPad, we have not felt the need to limit the time that children use it as a camera or to view photos.'
London Early Years Foundation's (LEYF) chief executive June O'Sullivan has taken the decision not to introduce tablets at any of the organisation's settings.
She told Nursery World, 'There are two reasons I'm against having tablets at the nurseries. One is because most children will have them at home. Another reason is that research has shown children are not developing a pincer grip or rotational wrist movements because of the "swipe" motion they use when on a tablet or smartphone.
'If children don't develop a pincer grip it can affect their fine motor skills. A pincer grip is needed to hold a pen or pencil and manipulate small objects. A consequence of this is that children of this generation who want to become surgeons, vets and IT technicians won't be able to demonstrate they have the manipulative skills to do the job.'
Meanwhile, a petition has been started in America calling for toy maker Fisher Price to stop selling its iPad Apptivity Seat.
The iPad Apptivity Seat, available in the United States, is a baby seat suitable for newborns to toddlers in which an iPad can be attached to so it faces the child. The product is not sold in the United Kingdom.
The petition, which so far has 218 signatures, argues that the product ‘promotes screen time for young children’ and goes against the American Academy of paediatrics recommendation for no screen time for children under two-years-old.
It goes on to say that ‘excessive screen time is linked to developmental and speech delays’, and calls for Fisher Price to remove its iPad Apptivity Seat from the ‘market’.