TV can lead to ADHD, Alzheimer’s, study finds

Posted March 30, 2007

Spending as little as one hour in front of the television everyday can cause negative physiological changes in brain activity like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children and Alzheimer’s disease in adults, according to a report in the British journal Biologist last month.

According to the report, if a child watches a significant amount of television during critical periods of brain development it may result in later attentional problems.

The, now well known, ADHD exists in about five percent of children and this number is rising.

Many have attributed this disorder to genetics, however there is a nine percent increase in attentional problems for every hour of television a child watches daily.

The study states that the sensory stimulation of television contributes to an increase in dopamine in the brain, which is linked to ADHD.

Television is not the only factor – computer games, which were previously thought to cause a higher stimulation in the brain than television, are now shown to only stimulate parts of the brain associated with vision and movement.

According to the study, adding simple one digit numbers activates areas in the left and right frontal lobes of the brain – areas that computer games do not.

“As an educator I am definitely fighting against these new technologies,” said Brian Williamson, a sixth grade social studies teacher at Ramona Middle School. “Suddenly the Darius of Persia doesn’t sound interesting anymore.”

This sheds light on how scientists have not been focusing enough on how early childhood experiences could possibly play a role in this problem.

And in adults, scientists consider watching television as a “non-intellectually stimulating activity” which could result in Alzheimer’s disease as well as other cognitive impairments.

Television can also contribute to obesity.

Researchers from Mexico have seen obesity rise 170 percent in the last decade, and for every hour of television watched this number increases by 12 percent.

Other countries such as China and Australia have found similar ties to obesity and television.

And, with about 75 percent of dinners eaten in front of the television, it’s no surprise that it can have a negative effect on a person’s meal frequency.

The television screen can give the brain external cues to eat more food which could counteract an inner cue that tells a person he or she is full.

“There is a lot of research that supports the idea that television can have detrimental effects on children’s growth in general,” said Raymond Scott, associate professor of psychology. “For example, we know that recent studies show that male and females get inappropriate body images (from television) and they try to mimic those … it affects their interaction with other people because they don’t feel they look their best …they are reluctant to approach people and …. they misperceive social cues.”

The long term effects of television can cause poor educational achievement along with low social economic status and personal well being, and these consequences were even seen in exposure to one and two hours of television viewing a day.

“A lot of teachers feel they have to entertain their kids to get them to focus,” said Williamson.

And, this supposed modest two-hour viewing of television could also result in irregular naptime patterns in small children and irregular bedtime schedules.

A simple lack of sleep can have serious cancer-related problems in the brain by reduced amounts of melatonin, which are extremely powerful antioxidants.

But, if a child reduced his or her television watching by at least one hour each day there was a lower risk in sleeping related problems.

The report shows that if a child is deprived of their video games, television or computers, the melatonin in their brain increased 30 percent.

This demonstrates how easily television can affect the brains melatonin.

Because girls are reaching puberty at an earlier age than in the 1950s researchers are attributing this fact to weight as well as decreased melatonin levels in the brain, which can have a significant effect in occurrence of early puberty.

The report states that, “Exposure to a television screen was associated with lower urinary melatonin levels, particularly effecting younger children at a pubertal stage where important changes in melatonin’s role take place.”

The evidence of health risks related to too much television viewing is only piling up, and this study is just one of many coming out that shows more hard evidence to support this idea.

Whether it’s an after school special or Sunday morning cartoons, it is becoming more and more apparent that as little as two hours of television each day is two hours too much.

“We tend to very much overstate the short term effect of technologies and understate the long term effect,” Williamson added.

Katherine Hillier can be reached at khillier@ulv.edu.

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