Too much TV ups kids' risk of attention problems

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Young children who watch more than a couple of hours of television a day are more likely to have attention problems as adolescents, researchers from New Zealand have found.

Visitors stand in front of flat screens at an exhibition stand of the IFA 2007 consumer electronics fair in Berlin, August 31, 2007. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

“The two-hour point is very, very clear with our data, very consistent with what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends,” Carl Erik Landhuis of the Dunedin School of Medicine at the University of Otago, the study’s first author, told Reuters Health.

“We’re not saying don’t watch TV, just don’t watch too much TV,” he added.

While there is a widespread perception that TV can contribute to attention problems, there is actually very little data on the issue, Landhuis noted in an interview. To investigate, he and his colleagues looked at 1,037 boys and girls born in 1972 and 1973, following them from age 5 to 15.

On average, kids watched about 2 hours of TV daily when they were 5 to 11 years old, but were watching 3.13 hours on weekdays by age 13 to 15.

Study participants who had watched more than 2 hours of TV in early childhood were more likely to have attention problems as young teens, the researchers found. Those who watched more than 3 hours were at even greater risk.

The researchers used statistical techniques to control for the effects of attention problems in early childhood and other factors that could influence both TV watching and later attention difficulties. They found that TV watching, both in early childhood and in adolescence, independently influenced the risk of these problems in adolescence.

“Although it doesn’t prove causation, it certainly provides evidence that the causal link is in that direction,” Landhuis said.

He and his colleagues suggest that kids who get used to watching lots of attention-grabbing TV may find ordinary life situations -- like the classroom -- boring. It’s also possible, they add, that TV may simply crowd out time spent doing other activities that can build attention and concentration skills, such as reading and playing games.

It’s likely, Landhuis said, that kids today watch much more TV than the participants in his study, who had only 2 channels to choose from in the late 1970s.

SOURCE: Pediatrics, September 2007.