TV Poses Risk to Children’s Health: Study

LONDON ~ Watching television can harm children much more than previously thought as it raises the risk of bad eyesight, obesity, premature puberty and autism, a new study says.

The study, published in the science journal Biologist this week, concludes that cutting viewing time for children must become a health priority and could save Britain’s state-run National Health Service money.

It found that watching television inhibits the production of the hormone melatonin, which affects the immune system, sleep cycle and the onset of puberty.

Lower melatonin levels may be one reason that girls are reaching puberty much earlier than in the 1950s, according to the study by psychologist Aric Sigman. It is also because the average weight levels of girls has increased.

Lower levels of melatonin may also make it more likely that cell DNA will produce cancer-causing mutations, it said.

Among the study’s findings are that early childhood television viewing:

– may be a trigger for autism;

– appears to be a key cause of permanent eyesight damage;

– may be a bigger factor in causing obesity than diet or exercise.

The study also found that the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease increases with each extra daily hour of television viewing among people aged 20 to 60.

TV watching is associated with irregular sleeping patterns among infants and toddlers, and it significantly increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

“Given the population’s sheer exposure time to this environmental factor, it is more than puzzling to consider how little awareness and action has resulted,” Sigman said.

“While society has shown alarm over school dinners, it has ignored the high-screen diet children have been consuming.”

Sigman added that it was “particularly disconcerting” that some academics warned against overreacting to these findings, warning that ignoring them we could “ultimately be responsible for the greatest health scandal of our time.”

Sigman, author of the book Remotely Controlled: How Television Is Damaging Our Lives, urged the British government to consider the problem “urgently.”

He proposed banning the youngest children from watching television and only introducing it “judiciously” after that.

The average six-year-old child in Britain will have spent one full year watching television and over half of three-year-olds have a television set in their bedroom, he said.

“To allow children to continue to watch this much screen media is an abdication of parental responsibility – truly hands-off parenting,” Sigman said.

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