Childern: Health Effects of Excessive TV Watching

By Updated at 2014-01-16 23:17:42 +0000


The following list some of the adverse Effects of Television on Child Health from spending too much time with TV and videos.

Overweight and Diabetes

Children and TV Statistics: The number of children and adolescents who are overweight or obese has doubled in the past 20 years in the U.S., according to the AAP. Even children younger than five, across all ethnic groups, have shown significant increases in overweight and obesity.

A number of studies have linked being overweight with TV watching, because it both reduces children's physical activity and subjects them to ads promoting foods with high fat and sugar content.

A television in a child's bedroom has also been reported as a strong predictor of overweight, even in preschool-aged children.

Risk Factors with Overweight

About 85% of the children who develop diabetes are overweight, according to the AAP, making excess weight a strong risk factor for this chronic illness.

Other medical problems found in overweight children include high blood pressure, heart problems, high cholesterol, and depression and low self-esteem.

In addition to the health problems faced by overweight children, researchers find that the probability of childhood obesity persisting into adulthood increases from about 20% at four years of age to approximately 80% by adolescence. That means there is an 80% chance that obese teenagers will grow into obese adults and face all the serious health effects and life-span risks associated with that condition.

For these reasons, LimiTV strongly recommends minimal TV for preschoolers, a maximum of 1 ½ hours per day for school-age children, a healthful diet, and at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day.

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD)

In the 1970s, the late researcher Professor Werner Halperin suggested that the rapid changes of sounds and images on TV may overwhelm the neurological system of a young child and cause attention problems that shows up at a later date.

Around the same period, Dr. Mathew Dumont of the Harvard Medical School suggested that the rapid changes of TV sounds and images may stimulate a child to mimic that dynamic behavior. That is, what we call ADHD may simply result from the child subconsciously copying the frenetic pace of TV programs. We now have a study that brings us solid findings about ADHD.

In April 2004, Dr. Dimitri Christakis and colleagues reported in the journal Pediatrics that early TV viewing (ages 1 and 3 were studied) is associated with attentional problems (ADHD) at a later age (age 7). The children studied watched a mean of 2.2 hours per day at age 1 and 3.6 hours per day at age 3.

Specifically, Christakis reports that watching about five hours of TV per day at age 1 is associated with a 28% increase in the likelihood of having attentional problems at age 7. A similar 28% increase at age 7 shows up for 3-year olds who watch about five hours of TV per day. Alternatively, each additional hour of TV watched above the mean at ages 1 and 3 increases the likelihood of attentional problems at age 7 by about 10%.

The authors include the following cautionary notes: (1) the determination of attentional problems (ADHD) was based on established checklists of behavior, not on a clinical diagnosis; (2) the authors relied on reports by parents to determine the amount of TV viewed - no direct monitoring of daily TV watching was done; and (3), the researchers had no data on the content of the TV programs watched.

Christakis and colleagues recommend that additional research be undertaken, and LimiTV strongly supports that. We also know, however, that each parent must make decisions based on what is currently known.

The steep rise in the number of children with ADD/ADHD, and the accompanying increase in the use of medications to treat these children (e.g., Ritalin), suggest that the problem is real and is being caused by something which is an inherent part of everyday life for American children.

Effects of TV Statistics : Current findings suggest that TV watching in the early years may contribute to this behavioral problem. Therefore, LimiTV recommends minimal TV and video watching during the preschool years.

Doctors sometimes refer to the enormous brain development that occurs in the first few years of life as a 'wiring' of the brain, i.e., making connections between the billions of neurons with which we are born. TV watching in these crucial early years may affect this wiring. That is, if the hours of TV watched exceed a certain level, a child's brain may be wired to respond more to the TV environment (rapid changes of sounds and images) than the natural environment. That level has not yet been determined, but since the AAP recommends no TV watching for the first two years of life, we could assume the level is quite low. It is for this reason as well that LimiTV recommends little-to-no TV through age 4.

Emotional Health

James Steyer, in The Other Parent (see Resources), reports that TV ads for children are often structured to make the child feel like a 'loser' or 'dork' if he/she does not get the advertised product. Young children are emotionally vulnerable and ads are developed to take advantage of that vulnerability.

This deplorable practice of preying on a child's self-esteem was criticized in an article in July 2000 titled, 'Stuffing Our Kids: Should Psychologists Help Advertisers Manipulate Children?' Allen Kanner of the Wright Institute and Tim Kasser of Knox College, the authors, reported that advertisers have hired psychological consultants to study every phase and stage of a child's life, and then used the results to develop sophisticated commercials that have the desired effect on our children.

The authors also wrote that a letter endorsed by 60 psychologists and mental health professionals was sent to the American Psychological Association requesting that they publicly denounce the use of psychological techniques to assist corporate advertising to children.

The average child watches over 40,000 commercials per year. In addition to potentially damaging a child's self-esteem, many ads also likely contribute to health problems, given that the most common products marketed to children include sugared cereals, candies, sodas, and snack foods. A child's diet heavy in such foods may contribute to the increase in the number of overweight children and the rise in diabetes, especially given the sedentary behavior of many children.

Manual Dexterity

In years past when preschoolers were not watching as many hours of TV as today, their play often involved the use of their hands. They strung beads, pounded blocks with a wooden hammer, did finger-painting, used plastic scissors and glue to cut and paste pictures, manipulated play dough, held their toys, played on a toy piano, and engaged in other similar activities. This type of play developed the use of their hands and fingers, their manual dexterity, and improved their hand-eye coordination.

When students arrived in school and began to learn their letters, they were able to hold a pencil correctly and shape the letters appropriately. Teachers now report (see Endangered Minds by Jane Healy, for example) that more children than in the past experience difficulty developing writing skills because of inadequate manual dexterity.

The increased time spent with TV and videos likely contributes to this problem, for it draws time away from the traditional forms of hand-centered play listed above.