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Monday, April 05, 2004 - Page updated at 11:12 A.M.
Attention-deficit risk linked to young kids' TV time, study finds
By Warren King
In the first research of its kind, scientists at Children's Hospital & Regional Medical Center and their colleagues found the risk increases by the hour.
For every hour of television watched daily by children at ages 1 and 3, the risk of attention problems at age 7 increases nearly 10 percent.
"The study adds one more reason for children not to watch TV," said Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a Children's pediatrician and lead scientist for study.
Other research has shown that children who watch television excessively have increased risks of obesity and aggressive behavior. The new study suggests young children who watch too much have a greater chance of being among the 4 to 12 percent of youngsters in the United States with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Children in the study with attention problems at age 7 were more likely to have difficulty concentrating and to be easily confused, impulsive, restless or obsessive about things in their lives. The problems were similar to symptoms for ADHD.
About 10 percent of the youngsters in the study had the difficulties at age 7.
"A child that watched, say, six hours a day would be 60 percent more likely to have these problems at age 7 than one who watched no television," said Christakis, also director of the Child Health Institute at the University of Washington. "That child would have greater challenges in school."
Conducted by researchers at Children's and the UW, the study is reported in the April edition of the journal Pediatrics. It assessed the television-viewing time of 1,278 children at age 1 and 1,345 children at age 3 all participants in a continuing government-sponsored study that looks at many aspects of children's lives.
The researchers found that the children watched from 0 to 16 hours a day, with an average of 2.2 hours at age 1 and 3.6 hours at age 3. Content of the television programming was not analyzed.
The study took into account several factors, including gestational age, prenatal substance use by the mother and socioeconomic status.
The recommendations appear far from reality.
Some 43 percent of children under 2 watch TV every day, and 26 percent have a TV in their bedrooms, according to a recent survey of parents by The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
In their earliest years, children's brains are undergoing rapid development, both with their brain cells and with how brain impulses are regulated by substances called neurotransmitters. Studies have shown that young laboratory rats given high levels of visual stimulation have abnormal patterns of brain cells. Scientists say increasing evidence shows that young children's brains are similarly vulnerable.
The rapidly changing images and sounds of television, even in educational children's programming, are certainly mesmerizing to young children but can be overstimulating, scientists say.
Television "is not like a piece of real life," said Christakis. "But it may develop as a child's reality ... a child who later learns that that is not the pace at which events unfold. Yet he is expected to be able to focus."
Christakis said his two children, 3 and 6, are limited to two hours of TV a week, all of it on weekends, always children's videos or PBS programs. They also may watch a movie on family movie night on the weekend.
Child-development experts both decry the effects of television itself and emphasize it takes away from time children need for other activities.
"The problem with watching TV is that kids are not passive learners; they learn by doing," said Lenore Rubin, a child psychologist for Public Health-Seattle & King County.
Rubin says TV also takes time away from nurturing relationships. Children who are well nurtured learn better and generally do better in life, she said.
"There are really better things to do than watch TV," she said. "What's better is to help cook ... or fold laundry or set the table or take a walk and look at the leaves."
Laura Taylor of Shoreline limits her 3-year-old daughter's television watching to one hour a day of children's programming and children's computer-game time to about two hours a week. The programming is almost always interactive, in which characters ask viewers to help them solve problems.
The idea, Taylor said, is for the TV and computer to be more than a baby-sitter. She is very selective to avoid the violence and sexuality of exaggerated body features found in some animated children's materials.
"Kids seem so much happier when they haven't been watching TV," Taylor said. "When they're playing dress up or games outside with other kids, or finding other ways to use their time."
Christakis hopes next to conduct a seven-year research project to see if children whose television watching is significantly reduced or eliminated have lower rates of attention problems. Parents, teachers and others will be asked to discourage TV watching, he said.
Warren King: 206-464-2247 or email@example.com
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