March 2, 2009 / 7:47 AM / 10 years ago

TV may do no harm or good to babies: study

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Whether watching television hurts or helps babies’ development has divided researchers and parents. A study released on Monday concluded it does neither.

Babies rest on a bed inside a maternity ward at a hospital in Manila November 14, 2008. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

The study of 872 children found no correlation between the amount of time they had spent viewing television before they reached 2 years of age and their progress at age 3.

On average, the children had watched nearly one hour of television per day at the age of 6 months and 1.4 hours a day by age 2, according to the report published in Pediatrics.

Surveys show 68 percent of babies under 2 view some screen media such as television or a computer on a typical day. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children younger than 2 never watch screen media, while some video makers promote their wares as educational.

In the study, children living in homes with lower household income or whose mothers had less education were more likely to watch more TV. Non-white children also watched more.

The children were given vocabulary, drawing, object matching and pegboard tests to evaluate their verbal and motor skills at age 6 months and again at 3.

Those who had watched more television as infants performed less well on tests at age 3, but the effect disappeared after adjusting for the mother’s education, vocabulary, household income and other socioeconomic factors.

“Contrary to parents’ perceptions that TV viewing is beneficial to their children’s brain development, we found no evidence of cognitive benefit from watching TV during the first 2 years of life,” wrote Marie Schmidt of Children’s Hospital Boston with colleagues from Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.

The findings paralleled those of some other studies that found television viewing had no impact on academic achievement among older children and adolescents — as long as socioeconomic factors were taken into account.

But another study cited by the researchers did find more TV viewing at age 3 correlated to less verbal ability at age 6. They suggested the detrimental effect may not show up until children are older than 3 and more verbal. Or there may be more harm done by TV viewing between the ages of 2 and 3 years.

Even so, there are reasons to curtail television viewing. Children who watch more television run higher risks of being overweight, developing attention problems and not getting enough sleep.

Reporting by Andrew Stern; Editing by Maggie Fox

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