Children's TV Watching Linked to Early Puberty

A report analyzing 35 different scientific studies of the effect of television on the viewer has identified 15 negative physical and psychological effects associated with watching television. While television has long been blamed for the rise in childhood obesity and diminished reading among children, this study, authored by Dr. Aric Sigman, suggests even more serious consequences for children who watch TV regularly.

The study, published in the respected Biologist magazine, and reported widely throughout Great Britain, found links between habitual TV viewing and obesity, cancer, autism, diabetes, Alzheimer's, attention disorders, and even the breakdown of cells capable of healing wounds. Equally alarmingly, Dr. Sigman claims a significant body of research now points to television as a key factor in reducing levels of the hormone melatonin, the substance that regulates the body's internal clock and also governs the speed at which puberty develops.

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain which plays a key role in regulating the body's internal clock. Dr. Sigman's report suggests that the light emitted by television screens may play a part in suppressing melatonin levels in the blood, which may disrupt the sleep patterns of children and teens as well as the age at which they enter puberty. The ever-earlier onset of puberty has puzzled researchers since it began in the 1950s, precisely when televisions became widely owned.

Dr Sigman also linked TV watching to attention issues, saying that rapid "jump cuts" fracture attention spans while at the same time the brain is programmed to reward itself with the neurotransmitter dopamine for being able to cope with an onslaught of novelty on the screen.

Dr Sigman told writer Fergus Shepherd of Scotsman.com that young children should be banned from watching TV at all, and introduced to it "judiciously" after that. "To allow children to continue to watch this much screen media is an abdication of parental responsibility -- truly hands-off parenting," said Sigman.

A summary of the negative effects reported by Dr. Sigman, as associated with regular TV viewing in 35 studies:

OBESITY
TV viewing is directly related to and now considered an independent cause of obesity. Sitting in front of a screen commands an increasingly large part of children's lives and, Dr Sigman believes, has replaced physical activity for many. Inactivity can also overlap with poor diet.

HEALING
TV seems to be involved in alterations in the activity, size and consistency of skin immune cells. It may lead to an increase in the migration of "cutaneous immune system mast cells", parts of body tissue that play a key role in healing wounds and offering defence against disease.

HEART TROUBLE
TV can set the conditions for long-term cardiovascular illness, some research claims. The adult risk of raised cholesterol and the potential for heart disease is strongly linked to TV viewing habits formed in childhood and teenage years, setting up a store of problems for later life.

METABOLISM
The metabolic rate decreases as average weekly hours of television viewing increases. Lowered metabolism leads to a reduced ability to burn fat. Combined with high-calorie food and drinks, it sets the stage for obesity and other health issues.

EYESIGHT
Permanent eyesight damage previously attributed to genetics is now being strongly linked to television-screen exposure. TV and computer screens are blamed for a rising incidence of myopia as they demand long periods of fixed attention from the viewer.

ALZHEIMER'S
TV really does rot your brain, apparently. Viewing between ages 20 to 60 is associated with the development of Alzheimer's disease: for each additional daily hour of television viewing, the associated risk of Alzheimer's disease development increases. Attention, memory and reaction time may also be affected.

ATTENT

11/5/2007 8:00:00 AM
Dr. Laura Markham
Laura Markham, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist trained at Columbia University in New York. She’s held many challenging jobs (she started and ran a weekly newspaper chain), but thinks raising children is the hardest, and most rewarding, work anyone can do.
View Full Profile Website: http://yourparentingsolutions.com/

Comments
It's difficult to read this article and not raise endless questions. I am not an advocate for excessive television viewing and I believe that it's obvious that there are associations and correlations with obesity and other health related issues that would also be connected to almost any situation where a person is stationary for great lengths of time. In order to form an objective decision we need to know who formed the sample group? What was the deomgraphic, education level etc? How large was the sample group? A critical question, how much television viewing is being referred to? 10 hours per day or 30 minutes? The information is very non-specific and conducive to raising fear, which in and of itself may be needed to have people stop and think about what they're doing. In reality, many reasonable people would ask if 30 minutes of screened and age appropriate viewing with a parent would have the same outcome? In an ideal world we would eliminate all artificial additives and processed food, microwaves and mobile phones, and of course television. In reality we need to be objective and reasonable, question information and our decisions and try to evaluate without extremes and unsubstantiated fear. We live in a society where we can do our best to form balance and minimise impact. Let's be clear in our research on what is fact or opinion in support of parents and people who want to make well informed decisions. On a personal note, I avoided television until my child was 2. She now watches an occasional (3-4 times per week) 30 minute educational (non-animated)program without advertising or licensed characters with me in the room with her. In my opinion this will not contribute to cancer, obesity, brain damage or decreased creativity. In fact, we learn songs together, make craft items or bake things that we have viewed on screen. Although we don't need tv to achieve this, it's just another option on some days that I am comfortable with. It's unhealthy to aim for 'perfect parenting.' Let's be reasonable and good enough parents and try our best, making informed decisions, not just reacting in extremes to opinions. There is enough guilt around parenting as it is.
Posted by annmaree
Dear Ivanna, Good luck in your discussion with your stepson. I just want to let you know that my website, <url removed>, has lots of info on the effects of TV watching on kids, in case that's helpful. There's also a section on Communicating with Your Kids that might make your conversation with your stepson more fruitful!
Posted by Dr. Laura Markham
The reason why I came across this site, I was searching for the information on how TV impacts children, in order to convince my 14 years ols stepson of how watching television can hurm your brain, body, destroy your prsonality, steal your present, poison your future, exost your communication, make you less who you are now. I thank you the Author and all other posters for the inputs, what a great material, I found more than enough information here for him to read.
Posted by ivanna
HealthNut- thanks for sharing your family's experience without TV. I grew up without TV and have almost never watched it, and I don't miss it being part of my life at all. My kids were also raised without it, although my daughter went through a phase when she wanted to see what other kids were talking about in sixth grade and began watching for awhile. She got bored with it fairly quickly and now says she finds reading much more interesting. I credit my family's wonderful conversations and my kids' dedication to reading to the lack of TV in their lives. (Although I must add that my 17 year old now occasionally watches Gossip Girl!) Are there other families out there who are kicking the TV habit?
Posted by Dr. Laura Markham
About a year ago, we moved and didn't activate cable or satellite dish service. It was great. We actually had dinner at the table with the family and played board games to keep us interested. The only thing we used the TV for was to rent movies. It worked out really well.
Posted by Toni
Dr. Markham, these claims seem sensational. I am not quick to discount sound scientific studies, but there are many studies that are on the extreme end of spectrum. I have seen traditional medicine blame everything on genetics for Cancer, Autism, Alzheimer, Obesity and Heart Disease. Then there are studies out that claim that not everything has to do with genetics. It's been brought about by immunizations. They claim that America is being over-immunized. They are not only the likely cause of Autism, but also Cancer, Autism, Alzheimers, etc. The same theme is repeated for those studies that claim that processed food, junk food, fast food can be blamed for the same diseases(Cancer, Alzheimer, Autism, Depression, etc...) Yes the world is complex, but this study seems simplified and biased.
Posted by Charlotte
Lottelotte- Sound scientific studies have proven that poor nutrition contributes to diabetes, obesity, heart disease and cancer. And that mercury, which was used as a preservative in immunizations, is basically poisonous to humans (although the association with autism is not considered definite by most scientists. And certainly some of the claims of this article will not be verified, so that, for instance, maybe autistic kids watch a lot of TV but TV doesn't cause autism. The studies sited in the above article mostly proved associations, rather than causes (e.g., autism and TV watching are associated.) But those associations point us toward future research to try to tease out causality. Just because we have identified other associations (for instance, children exposed to hormones from eating meat is associated with early puberty) doesn't de-legitimize the finding that exposure to TV reduces melatonin levels, which also leads to early puberty. We live in a complex world!
Posted by Dr. Laura Markham
The study, published in the respected Biologist magazine, and reported widely throughout Great Britain, found links between habitual TV viewing and obesity, cancer, autism, diabetes, Alzheimer's, attention disorders, and even the breakdown of cells capable of healing wounds. Equally alarmingly, Dr. Sigman claims a significant body of research now points to television as a key factor in reducing levels of the hormone melatonin, the substance that regulates the body's internal clock and also governs the speed at which puberty develops." I have heard of similar studies or theories that link these diseases to immunizations. Then I have heard that there are studies that link all this to processed foods, bad nutrition, etc. Each side provide compelling "evidence" for their findings. This is the first time that I have heard it blamed on TV. Sounds like a we are all pointing fingers to whatever we want the culprit to be.
Posted by Charlotte
Note that this study was published in a well-respected British science magazine, and that it was itself an analysis of the findings of 35 other studies that had all been published and presumably peer-reviewed. It is newly published, and will take years to be debated and reconfirmed by scientists, and even more years to filter into mainstream American life. Will this cause a dramatic change in American life? I believe so, but it will take time. There was a time when we did not know that smoking causes cancer. I lost a family member to lung cancer this week, and I have another sister who still smokes. That is the nature of addiction. I believe that we as a society are addicted to television and we rationalize it, and use it to entertain children. Sure, kids can learn from watching educational programs. But they learn more from doing, experimenting, discussing. Babies who spend a lot of time watching those "baby einstein" dvds actually have been proven to lag behind other babies in language development. I agree that America is in a great deal of trouble. But we already knew that, right? Look how many American adults are on psychiatric medication. Look how many are obese. Look how many families eat dinner together and have real, enjoyable conversations, without the TV on.
Posted by Dr. Laura Markham
I am a psychology student at the University of Southern California and I am doing an assignment in my writing class about the effects of television on children. I would like to share a few comments on your post. I was extremely shocked at the information in your post. With an emphasis in child psychology I am well aware of the evidence linking television-watching habits to obesity, but I have never heard findings such as these. It seems to me that this data is rather new. If there is continual research further proving this to be true, America is in a great deal of trouble. Television is such a prominent part of society today and the entertainment industry is paying close attention to children programming at an increasing rate. I work with children on a frequent basis and I am guilty of using educational programming to care for children. In fact, I have my own favorites that I hope the children want to watch. From a caregiver’s perspective, it seems harmless and sometimes helpful to allow children to watch a selected, few television shows that are specifically geared towards a developmental area. I believe that I, along with mothers and child caregivers across the nation, may need to rethink their methods in light of this new information. In your opinion, do you feel that this information will become main-stream enough for it to affect the average American?
Posted by dSw1
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