Attention Problems Due to TV Before 3

By Frederick Hecht, M.D. and Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D.
Medical Authors and Editors, Medicine.com

April 5, 2004 -- An important new study has shown that the amount of children's television exposure at ages 1 and 3 directly relates to later attention problems. The report appeared in the April issue of Pediatrics.

The lead author of the study, Dr. Dimitri Christakis from the University of Washington in Seattle, said: "We found that watching television before the age of 3 increases the chances that children will develop attentional problems at age 7."

The study is especially convincing because of the systematic approach taken by Dr. Christakis and his team, their inclusion of a variety of variables, and the size of the group of children in the study.

The Study

Christakis and his team examined data on nearly 1,300 children from a major government survey of children and youth. They compared the rates of TV watching during the first three years of life to the presence of attention problems at age 7.

Christakis said that "for each additional daily hour of television that young children watched on average," the risk of having attentional problems by age 7 "increased by almost 10%."

This means that toddlers who watched eight hours of television a day "would have an 80% higher risk of attentional problems compared to a child who watched no TV."

American Academy of Pediatrics

The current guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend no "screen time" for children under 2 years old, no more than 1 to 2 hours a day of quality television and video for older children, and no electronic media in young children's rooms.

Yet a recent survey found that that 68% of children under 2 years old spend slightly more than 2 hours a day using screen media. "Somehow, the considered message of the American Academy of Pediatrics is not hitting the target," noted Dr. Jane Healy in an editorial accompanying the study in Pediatrics.

Our Comment

Teachers for the past quarter century have encountered a virtual "epidemic" of children with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). These children have less ability to listen, pay attention, and engage in independent problem solving. In sum, they have less ability to learn.

The teachers have often blamed "the advent of fast-paced, attention-getting children's programming" for the epidemic of ADHD. We think that the teachers are right.

Now is the time to place limits on screen time for children.

Abstract of Study

The following is the abstract of this study, as it appeared in the journal Pediatrics:

Objective. Cross-sectional research has suggested that television viewing may be associated with decreased attention spans in children. However, longitudinal data of early television exposure and subsequent attentional problems have been lacking. The objective of this study was to test the hypothesis that early television exposure (at ages 1 and 3) is associated with attentional problems at age 7.

Methods. We used the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, a representative longitudinal data set. Our main outcome was the hyperactivity subscale of the Behavioral Problems Index determined on all participants at age 7. Children who were 1.2 standard deviations above the mean were classified as having attentional problems. Our main predictor was hours of television watched daily at ages 1 and 3 years.

Results. Data were available for 1278 children at age 1 and 1345 children at age 3. Ten percent of children had attentional problems at age 7. In a logistic regression model, hours of television viewed per day at both ages 1 and 3 was associated with attentional problems at age 7 (1.09 and 1.09), respectively.

Conclusions. Early television exposure is associated with attentional problems at age 7. Efforts to limit television viewing in early childhood may be warranted, and additional research is needed.

Sources

Dimitri A. Christakis, Frederick J. Zimmerman, David L. DiGiuseppe, and Carolyn A. McCarty. Early Television Exposure and Subsequent Attentional Problems in Children. Pediatrics 2004; 113: 708-713.

E.J. Mundell. Toddler TV Time May Shorten Attention Spans. HealthDay, April 5, 2004.


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Last Editorial Review: 4/5/2004