Toddlers who watch television are significantly more likely to have poor health and poor educational performance by age 10, according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Montreal and published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.
“Although we expected the impact of early TV viewing to disappear after seven-and-a-half years of childhood, the fact that negative outcomes remained is quite daunting,” said lead researcher Linda Pagani. “Our findings make a compelling public health argument against excessive TV viewing in early childhood.”
“This is yet another study reinforcing the need for our society to finally accept that quite aside from good or bad parenting, children’s daily screen time is a major independent health issue,” said Aric Sigman of the British Psychological Association, who was not involved in the study.
As part of the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development Main Exposure, researchers questioned parents about their children’s television exposure at both 29 and 53 months of age. They found that the average two-year-old watched just under nine hours of TV per week, while the average four-year-old watched just under 15. Fully 11 percent of two-year-olds and 23 percent of four-year olds watched more than two hours per day.
At the age of 10, children who had watched more TV as youngsters were significantly more likely to be rated by their teachers as having lower levels of classroom engagement and poorer performance in math. They were also less likely to be active and more likely to drink more soft drinks and have a higher body mass index.
“Early childhood is a critical period for brain development and formation of behavior,” Pagani said. “High levels of TV consumption during this period can lead to future unhealthy habits.”
“Common sense would suggest that television exposure replaces time that could be spent engaging in other developmentally enriching activities and tasks that foster cognitive, behavioral and motor development.”