- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 4, 2010

New evidence suggests that pediatricians are justified in their concerns about toddlers getting too much “screen time”: The more TV these young children watched, the more likely they were to have problems with math, classroom engagement and staying slim when they reached the fourth grade, a new study says.

Watching television “seems so innocuous and entertaining,” Linda S. Pagani and colleagues wrote in the new issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, published by the American Medical Association.

But it appears that early and excessive TV exposure can have lasting adverse effects on children, they wrote.

Ms. Pagani, of the University of Montreal in Canada, and colleagues examined data on 1,314 Quebec children at age 29 months, 53 months, and when they were in fourth grade (around age 10).

The average television exposure for 29-month-olds was 8.82 hours a week, rising to 14.85 hours a week by 53 months. (These averages generally meet the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation that children age 2 and older watch no more than two hours a day of television.)

After adjusting for other factors, the researchers found that “every additional hour of television exposure at 29 months” corresponded to a variety of adverse outcomes by the time the Quebec children reached fourth grade.

These included decreases in math achievement, classroom engagement and time spent in physical activities; increases in the consumption of soft drinks and snacks; and higher body-mass index scores.

“Behaviorally, viewing habits begin early and persist into the school years, much like other lifestyle practices,” the study authors said. Early and excessive TV viewing is already linked to being sedentary and problems with attention spans; this new study shows additional adverse effects in math, fitness and social skills.

Some people might even classify television as “toxic” to infants and young children, Dr. Dimitri A. Christakis and Dr. Frederick P. Rivara said in a companion editorial in the journal.

“The obesity ‘epidemic’ affecting children throughout the world has been ascribed, in part, to the effects of television on decreased physical activity and snacking while watching,” they noted.

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