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Toddlers tv watching linked to attention deficit { April 5 2004 }

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Toddlers' TV viewing linked to attention deficit
April 5, 2004

BY JIM RITTER Health Reporter

Toddlers who watch lots of television are more likely to show signs of attention deficit disorder later on in life, a study has found.

For each hour of TV watched each day between the ages of 1 and 3, the risk of attention problems at age 7 increases by nearly 10 percent, researchers found.

"Parents should be advised to limit their young child's television viewing," said lead researcher Dr. Dimitri Christakis of Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle.

Previous studies have found TV also might increase the risk of obesity, aggressive behavior, drug abuse, bad grades, sexual activity and poor body image.

On average, children and adolescents watch an average of nearly three hours of TV a day, not counting videos and video games.

As many as 30 percent have a TV in their bedrooms.

"There is a tremendous and growing reliance on television," Christakis said.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is one of the most common childhood mental disorders. It affects between 4 percent and 12 percent of children, and boys are two to three times more likely than girls to have it.

While there is a genetic component, some experts have suggested television might be partly to blame by rewiring children's brains.

"In contrast to the pace with which real life unfolds and is experienced by young children, television can portray rapidly changing images, scenery and events," Christakis and colleagues wrote.

Among the 2,623 toddlers researchers tracked, the 1-year-olds watched an average of 2.2 hours a day, while the 3-year-olds watched 3.6 hours.

Around age 7, researchers surveyed their parents for signs of ADHD, including whether the child has difficulty concentrating, has obsessions or is impulsive, easily confused or restless.

The link between television viewing and ADHD symptoms held up after researchers adjusted for several other possible causes, including socioeconomic status, maternal depression, substance abuse during pregnancy and premature birth.

Nevertheless, the findings don't prove television causes ADHD. It's possible that parents who allow excessive TV viewing are distracted, neglectful or otherwise preoccupied, and this home environment could be the root cause of ADHD symptoms.

Moreover, researchers did not determine what programs children watched.

Some studies have found programs such as PBS' long-running "Sesame Street" promote reading and good attention. However, some experts believe even educational television can be detrimental, researchers wrote.

Watching out

*Allow no more than one to two hours of television and videos a day for older children and no screen time for children under age 2. Use a timer, if necessary. When the timer rings, turn off the TV -- no exceptions.

*Keep TVs, VCRs, video games and computers out of children's bedrooms.

*Monitor what your child is watching. Most shows should be informational, educational and nonviolent.

*Watch shows along with your child, and discuss the content.

*Encourage alternatives, including reading, sports, hobbies and creative play.

SOURCE: American Academy of Pediatrics

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