MONDAY, May 3, 2010 (Health.com) — Young children who watch a lot of TV aren’t just missing out on more stimulating activities. They may also be destined for problems at school and unhealthier habits later in life, new research suggests.
Each additional hour of TV that toddlers watch per week translates into poorer classroom behavior, lower math scores, less physical activity, and more snacking at age 10, according to a new study in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.
“Kids should be doing things that are intellectually enriching: playing with board games, playing with dice, playing with things that will improve their motor skills, reading,” says the lead author of the study, Linda Pagani, PhD, a professor in the School of Psychoeducation at the University of Montreal, in Quebec. “All that is replaced by sitting on the couch.”
Pagani and her colleagues followed more than 1,300 children for over seven years. Using parent surveys, the researchers measured the amount of TV the kids watched at age two-and-a-half, and again at age four-and-a-half.
Then, when the children were in fourth grade, the researchers asked the kids’ schoolteachers to rate their academic performance, how well they got along with peers, and how well they listened and followed instructions. They also asked parents about the child’s diet and level of physical activity.
Each additional hour spent in front of the TV per week at age two-and-a-half corresponded to a 7% decrease in classroom engagement, a 6% decrease in overall math achievement, and a 10% increase in being bullied by peers. (Interestingly, TV time was not associated with reading skills.)
These findings suggest that kids who watch too much TV are “learning to be just a passive receptacle,” Pagani says.
TV watching also appeared to have negative effects on physical health, with each additional weekly hour resulting in a 9% decline in overall physical activity, a 9% increase in soft-drink consumption, a 10% increase in snacks eaten, and a 5% increase in body mass index.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of 2 watch no television at all, and after age 2 watch no more than one to two hours of quality programming a day. But nearly half of 1- to 2-year-olds and more than 40% of 2- to 3-year-olds are estimated to watch more than the recommended amount, the study notes.
Next page: How does TV harm kids?