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Study Finds Link Between Television Viewing and Attention Problems in Children

April 05, 2004

Seattle, WA: Early television exposure in children ages 1-3 is associated with attention problems at age 7, according to a study from Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle published in the April issue of PEDIATRICS.

Seattle, WA: Early television exposure in children ages 1-3 is associated with attention problems at age 7, according to a study from Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle published in the April issue of PEDIATRICS.

The study revealed that each hour of television watched per day at ages 1-3 increases the risk of attention problems, such as ADHD, by almost 10 percent at age 7. The study controls for other attributes of the home environment including cognitive stimulation and emotional support.

The findings also suggest that preventive action can be taken to minimize the risk of attention problems in children. Limiting young children's exposure to television during the formative years of brain development, consistent with the American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP) recommendations, may reduce a child's subsequent risk of developing ADHD.

The AAP recommends parents avoid letting their children under the age of 2 years watch television and that parents exert caution � such as setting limits on TV viewing, helping children develop media literacy skills to question, analyze and evaluate TV messages, and taking an active role in their children's TV viewing � in children over the age of 2.

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects between 4 to 12 percent of children in the United States, and is the most common behavioral disorder in children.

The study, led by Dimitri Christakis, MD, MPH, a pediatric researcher at Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle, did not look at the content of the television programs.

"This study suggests that there is a significant and important association between early exposure to television and subsequent attentional problems," said Christakis, who is also director of the Child Health Institute and an associate professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

"We know from national estimates that children watch an average of 2-3 hours of television a day in the 1-3 year old age group and that as many as 30 percent of all children have a television in their bedroom. There is a tremendous and growing reliance on television for a variety of reasons. However, parents should be advised to limit their young child's television viewing."

This national study adds inattention to the list of harmful consequences of excessive television viewing that also includes obesity and violent behavior. Children ages 1-3 were chosen to participate because their brains are still developing rapidly, and symptoms of attentional problems, such as ADHD, do not typically manifest in children until later years.

About Seattle Children's Hospital

Consistently ranked as one of the best children’s hospitals in the country by U.S. News & World Report, Children’s serves as the pediatric and adolescent academic medical referral center for the largest landmass of any children’s hospital in the country (Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho). For more than 100 years, Children’s has been delivering superior patient care and advancing new treatments through pediatric research. Children’s serves as the primary teaching, clinical and research site for the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine. The hospital works in partnership with Seattle Children’s Research Institute and Seattle Children’s Hospital Foundation. For more information, visit http://www.seattlechildrens.org.

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