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27-03-2013 | Mental health | Article

Excessive TV viewing may increase conduct problems in children

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medwireNews: Results from a large UK study suggest that children who watch too much television at the age of 5 years may be more prone to conduct problems in later childhood than those who watch little or no television.

However, the investigators observed no links between behavioral problems and time spent playing electronic games.

"At last we have a robust, longitudinal study that reveals a balanced picture. If five year olds watch more than three hours of television per day, research detects a small but noticeable negative effect on their conduct problems, though no effect on hyperactivity or emotional problems," Sonia Livingstone (London School of Economics, UK), an independent researcher, commented to the press.

"So, no cause for panic, but good reason to ask why some children spend so much time watching television - perhaps the pressures on their parents are too great, or perhaps there are no play spaces nearby? Or maybe what matters is how children watch television: research also shows that children benefit the most from opportunities to talk, interact and play - and this can be done in front of the television as well as elsewhere," she added.

The researchers, led by Alison Parkes (University of Glasgow, UK), analyzed data collected from 11,014 children participating in the UK millennium Cohort Study. They compared parental reports of hours spent watching TV or playing electronic games at the age of 5 years and psychosocial adjustment, as measured by the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, at the age of 7 years.

As reported in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, the authors found that children who watched 3 or more hours of TV a day at the age of 5 years had a significant 0.13-point increase in conduct problems compared with children who watched less than an hour a day, based on a multivariable linear regression model.

Another independent commentator, Annette Karmiloff-Smith (Birkbeck, University of London, UK), suggested a more positive approach. She told the press: "Children are born into a media-saturated world. Rather than focus on the possible adverse effects - and this study shows that they are tiny - it would be better to focus on the positive neural and cognitive changes that occur when the child actively engages with screen exposure."

By Helen Albert, Senior medwireNews Reporter

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