Watching TV may damage children's brain development, leading to increased
anti-social behaviour, new research claims.
There is also a correlation between the amount of TV children watch and the
degree of educational damage they suffer, according to the report by Aric Sigman,
an associate fellow of the British Psychological Society.
And significant long-term damage occurs even at so-called modest levels of
viewing - between one and two hours a day - the report, Remotely Controlled,
Children now spend more time watching a TV screen than they spend in school,
but viewing even a moderate amount can dramatically increase their risk of myopia,
slow down their metabolic rate and may trigger premature puberty, according
to Dr Sigman.
It was also found to lead to a "significantly elevated risk" of sleep
problems in adulthood, causing hormone changes, which in turn directly increase
appetite and body fat production and damage the immune system. leading to a
greater vulnerability to cancer.
While the average Briton watches four hours of TV a day, children aged 11-15 spend
seven-and-a-half hours a day watching TV and computers - an increase of 40 per
cent in a decade - the scientist claims.
More than half of three-year-olds have a TV set in their bedrooms and the average
six-year-old will have already watched nearly one full year of their lives.
Sigman said: "A 'dose-response relationship' between the amount of television
children watch and the degree of educational damage they suffer is now emerging
that has 'biological plausibility'.
"Television viewing is also now linked with stunting brain development
in the child's frontal lobes leading to reduced impulse control and increased
"Teachers are under pressure to vie for the child's attentional resources
which have been damaged by exposure to fast changing screen images. This leaves
teachers facing a generation of children who find it more difficult to pay attention
and thereby learn but also exhibit poor self-restraint and anti-social behaviour.
"Schools are expected to 'deliver results', yet they have an insurmountable
obstruction in the form of a TV screen."
Sigman said reducing television viewing should be a priority and is calling
on the government to issue guidelines on the recommended amount of TV people
He suggests children under three should see no screen entertainment, those
over three should be limited to watching one hour a day of "good quality"
programs, teenagers should be limited to one-and-a-half hours a day and adults
should watch two hours a day.
The report which refers to children and adults, concludes that regardless
of the type of programs people watched, even a moderate amount of viewing:
* Dramatically increases the risk of myopia in children;
* Slows children's metabolic rate;
* May trigger premature puberty;
* Leads, from childhood, to a significantly elevated risk of sleep problems
in adulthood, causing hormone changes, which in turn directly increase appetite
and body fat production and damage the immune system leading to a greater
vulnerability to cancer;
* Is a direct cause of obesity and a bigger factor than eating junk food
or not doing enough exercise;
* May damage brain-cell development and function in the neural circuits underlying
attention and impulse control;
* Significantly increases the risk of abnormal glucose metabolism and new
type 2 diabetes.
* Is the only adult pastime from the ages of 20 to 60 positively linked to
developing Alzheimer's disease.
* Is a major independent cause of clinical depression (of which Britain has
the highest rate in Europe).
Sigman, who is also a member of the Institute of Biology, said the health risks
are "the greatest health scandal of our time ... (and) reducing television
viewing should be a population health priority.
"Perhaps because television isn't a substance or a visibly risky activity,
it has eluded the value judgments that have befallen other health issues,"
He said it was "particularly disturbing" that some academics urge
caution and warn against the risk of over-reacting.
"What harm could possibly result from preventing very young children from
watching television and from reducing the amount of television for those over
three years of age?
"There is simply too much at stake not to be responsibly decisive now.
In short, there's nothing to be lost by watching less television but a great
deal to be lost by continuing to watch as much as we do."
Sigman collated and analysed diverse scientific studies from government agencies
across the world, from the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention
to the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, The Royal College of Psychiatrists,
The American Medical Association, National Academy of Sciences and Harvard and
Stanford medical schools.
These studies were combined with first-hand observational data by the author
on the effects of television in remote cultures including Bhutan, Tonga, Burma,
Laos, Bolivia, Mali, China, Iran, Japan and Vietnam.