TV will stunt young brains: study

October 4, 2021
Sydney Morning Herald

Watching TV may damage children's brain development, leading to increased anti-social behaviour, new research says.

There is also a correlation between the amount of TV children watch and the degree of educational damage they suffer, according to a 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 says.

Children in Britain now spend more time watching a TV screen than they do at school, but viewing even a moderate amount can dramatically increase their risk of myopia, slow down their metabolic rate and may trigger premature puberty, Dr Sigman said.

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.

Dr 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 anti-social behaviour.

"Schools are expected to deliver results, yet they have an insurmountable obstruction in the form of a TV screen."

Dr Sigman suggests children under three should see no screen entertainment, those over three should be limited to one hour a day of "good quality" programs, teenagers should be limited to 1½ hours a day and adults should only watch up to two hours a day.

Dr Sigman, who is also a member of Britain's Institute of Biology, said the health risks are "the greatest health scandal of our time … 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 judgements that have befallen other health issues."

He said it was "particularly disturbing" that some academics urge caution and warn against the risk of overreacting.

"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?" he said.

"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."