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Childhood TV viewing linked to teen attention problems

Susan Notes: Study members were a general population birth cohort of 1037 participants (502 female) born in Dunedin, New Zealand, between April 1972 and March 1973. Parental estimates of children's television-viewing time were obtained at ages 5, 7, 9, and 11 years. Self-, parent-, and teacher-reported attention problems in adolescence were obtained at ages 13 and 15 years.

This makes them more than 30 years old now. It would be interesting to know how they're doing as adults.


staff

Watching television more than two hours a day early in life can lead to attention problems later in adolescence, according to a large long-term study.

The roughly 40% increase in attention problems among "heavy" TV viewers was observed in both boys and girls, and was independent of whether a diagnosis of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder was made prior to adolescence.

"Those who watched more than two hours, and particularly those who watched more than three hours, of television per day during childhood had above-average symptoms of attention problems in adolescence," Erik Landhuis of the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, wrote in his report, published in Pediatrics on Tuesday.

Symptoms of attention problems included short attention span, poor concentration, and being easily distracted. The findings could not be explained by early-life attention difficulties, socio-economic factors, or intelligence, says the team.

"This latest study adds to the growing body of evidence that suggests parents should take steps to limit the amount of TV their children watch," adds Bob Hancox, one of the researchers.

Mundane reality

The team studied the long-term habits and behaviours of more than 1000 children born in Dunedin, between April 1972 and March 1973. The children aged 5 to 11 watched an average of 2.05 hours of weekday television. From age 13 to 15, time spent in front of the television rose to an average of 3.1 hours a day.

Young children who watched a lot of television were more likely to continue the habit as they got older, but even if they did not, the damage was done, the study said.

"This suggests that the effects of childhood viewing on attention may be long lasting," Landhuis notes. He offers several possible explanations for the association.

One is that the rapid scene changes common to many TV programs may overstimulate the developing brain of a young child, and could make reality seem boring by comparison.

"Hence, children who watch a lot of television may become less tolerant of slower-paced and more mundane tasks, such as school work," he writes.
Net effects

It is also possible that TV viewing may supplant other activities that promote concentration, such as reading, games, sports and play, he says. The lack of participation inherent in TV watching might also condition children when it comes to other activities.

The study is not proof that TV viewing causes attention problems, Landhuis notes, because it may be that children prone to attention problems may be drawn to watching television. "However, our results show that the net effect of television seems to be adverse."

Previous studies have linked the sedentary habit of TV watching among children to obesity and diabetes, amongst other public health issues, see Childhood TV and gaming is 'major public health issue).

— staff
New Scientist
2007-09-04
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn12586-childhood-tv-viewing-linked-to-teen-attention-problems.html


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