Television addiction, especially in children, has always been an issue requiring some level of concern, more so when it becomes an all-consuming activity, affecting other areas of a child’s life like reading, sleeping, learning activities, and exercise, amongst others. Permitting those extra hours of screen time might pose health risks to your children as a new study out of New Zealand suggests that watching television excessively as a child elevates the risks of future smoking and gambling addictions.

Prior research has shown that spending too much time in front of screens, particularly for kids can be linked to lack of sleep, speech delays, and poor social skills, all of which affect a child during development. Researchers from the University of Otago believe that findings from the study could influence public health policies and professional recommendations on how much screen time children should be exposed to. 

According to study co-author, Dr. Helena McAnally, “People often talk of television viewing as an addiction; this research indicates that for some people, excessive television viewing may be an early expression of an addictive disorder or may lead to later substance-related and other addictive disorders.”

Study Methodology

The study published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction was aimed at establishing a potential relationship between television viewing in childhood and an increased risk of substance abuse and gambling in adulthood. They did this by analyzing data from a study of children born between 1972 and 1973. Initially beginning assessment at age 3 and then followed up at ages 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 18, 21, 26, 32, 38, and 45 years. 

Participants’ information on television viewing was collected at the above-mentioned ages both subjectively and on parents’ accounts, while also taking into consideration parents’ socioeconomic status, child’s sex, and childhood self-control. This information was then cross-referenced against substance abuse disorders and gambling disorders and evaluated from physical interviews performed at select ages.

Results

Male study participants recorded a higher average of television watching hours than boys. This was reflected in the higher propensity for alcohol use disorder, cannabis use disorder, and gambling disorder amongst men than in women although men and women had similar rates of tobacco use disorder.

Analyses adjusted for sex, childhood, and adolescence also showed a relationship between mean television viewing time and a higher risk of alcohol addiction, cannabis addiction, and gambling addiction between the ages of 18 and 45. 

Upon further adjustment for socioeconomic status and self-control, mean television viewing time was associated with tobacco use disorder and gambling disorder.

The link between excessive television watching during adolescence and higher odds of alcohol and marijuana disorders is evident. Moreover, this is the first study to establish this association.

In conclusion, this study emphasizes the need for monitoring and limiting the screen time children are exposed to. The previous recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics of a daily limit of two hours remains a reasonable guide as it ensures developing kids have a life outside of just staring at screens all day. 

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