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Health & Parenting

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TV Watching at Age 2 Spells Trouble Later

Study Finds Early TV Exposure Linked to Problems at Age 10
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

May 3, 2010 -- Television watching at age 2 1/2 boosts a child's risk of having multiple school and health problems later in life, according to a new study.

The effects of too much TV too early was far-reaching and long-lasting, says study author Linda Pagani, PhD, professor of psycho-education at the Universite de Montreal and a researcher at the Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Center in Montreal, Canada.

''You get a child who's more sedentary, has a higher BMI, is not eating properly, and not doing well in school socially and academically in the fourth grade," Pagani tells WebMD.

Numerous other studies have focused on the effects of television viewing on children, linking too much screen time to poorer school work and excess weight later. But Pagani says her new research is more comprehensive -- it looked at a variety of potential effects, not a single one. And she followed up on the children longer -- until age 10, or fourth grade.

Evaluating the effects of early TV viewing is important, she says. "From birth to age 5, you have enormous brain expansion. We're talking exponential."

And, according to her research, early television viewing is not doing the toddler brain any favors.

Television and Kids: Study Details

For the study, Pagani and her colleagues gathered data on 1,314 children born in Quebec, Canada, between 1997 and 1998.

Parents reported how many hours a week their children viewed television at 29 months and again at 53 months. The researchers gathered teacher and parent reports on academic performance, psychosocial and health habits, and the children's body mass index or BMI.

At age 29 months, the average TV viewing was 8.82 hours a week, Pagani found. At 53 months, the average was 14.85 hours.

Although that may not sound high, Pagani notes that the range was wide. ''This is an average,'' she says, so many children watched more.

At 29 months, 11% of the toddlers were watching more than two hours a day. By age 53 months, 23.4% of the children were watching more than two hours a day.

Current recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics discourage television viewing for children under age 2 and suggest no more than one or two hours of ''screen time" (TV, computers) daily for older children.

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