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Health & Parenting

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Toddler TV Time Can Cause Attention Problems

Study Shows, Two Hours a Day Leads to Difficulty Concentrating
WebMD Health News

April 5, 2004 -- Tempting as it might be to do so, using the television to "baby-sit" 1- to 3-year-olds increases the possibility that the baby will have attention problems in school, according to results of a new study of more than 2,500 children.

Child development experts have been worried about kids and TV for decades and the American Academy of Pediatrics is already on record in favor of limiting toddler TV time, but the study from researchers at the University of Washington Child Health Institute in Seattle offers the first scientific evidence linking television exposure to attention problems. Dimitri A. Christakis, MD, MPH, tells WebMD that a 3-year-old who watches TV for two hours a day "has a 20% increased risk for attention problems at age 7 compared with a child who doesn't watch any TV."

Christakis says that the risk increases as TV watching increases so that "for each additional hour of television watched, the risk is increased by almost 10%."

Moreover, he says that the TV may increase the risk for attentional problems because television images change rapidly, "which is an important contrast to the pace of real life," he says. He notes that even some well-respected children's programs - such as Sesame Street -- are specifically designed to rely on rapid fire images to keep a young child's attention.

In the study Christakis and colleagues used data collected from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, a study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor. The survey collects data on family background, home environment, and health. Mothers were asked to estimate television watching time on a typical weekday. Television data were available for 1,278 children at age 1 and 1,345 children at age 3, and data were collected again for both groups at age 7. The researchers used a measurement tool called the Behavioral Problems Index to identify children who had attention problems such as difficulty concentrating, being easily distracted, impulsiveness, or restlessness. He says that about 10% of the children had attention problems by age 7.

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