By LAURA CLARK
February 19, 2007
The devastating extent to which watching television damages children's health is spelt out in a report today.
It lists 15 ways that over-exposure to TV can harm youngsters - from fuelling obesity and shortsightedness to causing premature puberty and autism.
Author Dr Aric Sigman, who reviewed 35 academic studies, said the findings implicated television in 'the greatest unacknowledged health scandal of our time'.
He accused Ministers of ignoring the link between TV and a host of adverse consequences in the young, including slower progress at school and poor health continuing into adulthood.
Limiting time spent in front of the Box must become a Government priority to improve children's well-being and save the Health Service millions, he said.
Dr Sigman claimed that, based on national viewing figures, the average child will have spent a full year watching television by the time they are six.
More than half of three-year-olds have TVs in their bedrooms.
Dr Sigman, an associate fellow of the British Psychological Society, said that children under three should not be watching any television at all and parents should only introduce it 'judiciously' after that.
He recommended that between the ages of three to five children should watch no more half an hour of 'good quality programming' a day.
This could be increased to an hour for five to 12-year-olds and an hour and a half for teenagers.
Days after a report revealed British children to be the unhappiest and unhealthiest in the developed world, Dr Sigman suggested it was no coincidence that Britons also watch the most TV in Europe.
'Watching television, irrespective of the content, is increasingly associated with unfavourable biological and cognitive changes,' he warned.
'These alterations occur at viewing levels far below the population norm.
'Nobody wants to know about it. The Government in all its white papers never mentions television. It's bizarre.
'To allow children to continue to watch this much screen media is an abdication of parental responsibility - truly hands-off parenting.'
According to Dr Sigman's report, published in the science journal Biologist, watching too much television has been linked with hormonal changes that disrupt sleep, promote obesity and even lower immunity to disease.
It is also said to hamper brain development since TV viewing, unlike reading, fails to provide growing brains with the stimulation needed to foster analytical thinking.
One long-term study in New Zealand, tracked children from birth and concluded that watching large amounts of TV in childhood was linked with poor educational achievement by the age of 26.
Youngsters also had shorter attention spans and were at greater risk of developing Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
The onset of puberty may even be hastened by too much television.
An Italian study found that children deprived of TV had far higher levels of the hormone melatonin, which is known to slow down the advance of sexual maturity.
These are the 15 harmful effects of TV on children:
• Obesity. A result of little exercise.
• Disrupted hormones. Light from televisions suppresses production of the key hormone melatonin.
• Lowered immune system. Reduced melatonin may increase the chance of mutations in cell DNA, which causes cancer.
• Premature puberty. Also linked to low levels of melatonin.
• Sleep disorders. Over-stimulating the senses causes sleeplessness.
• Autism. Linked to a lack of social interaction.
• Increased body fat. Altered levels of the hormones leptin and ghrelin produce fat and boost appetite.
• Poor concentration. Development of brain cells governing attention span is impaired.
• Difficulty reading. A result of poor intellectual stimulation while young.
• Type 2 diabetes - From eating high-calorie food while watching TV.
• Changes to skin immune cells. Waves emitted by sets are linked to changes in skin 'mast' cells.
• Increased cholesterol. A result of an inactive childhood.
• Slower metabolism. Watching TV may slow the metabolism more than simply doing nothing • Shortsightedness. Staring at a screen can lead to eye damage.
• Alzheimer's Disease. Heavy viewing linked to increased risk.