TV May Not Raise Kids' Risk of ADHD

Time spent watching TV may not influence young kids’ risk of developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), researchers report.

Experts from Texas Tech University in Lubbock studied 5,000 children. Data came from a national survey of parents, teachers, kindergarteners, and first-grade students.

Kindergartener’s TV time was not linked to the chance of having attention problems in first grade, the study shows.

The results “do not indicate the presence of an important relationship between television exposure and subsequent attention problems,” write Tara Stevens, EdD, and Miriam Mulsow, PhD, in Pediatrics.

Past research has drawn the opposite conclusion, so more studies are needed, write Stevens and Mulsow.

Screening for ADHD

The surveys covered these topics:

Kids’ TV exposure Parents’ limits on kids’ TV time Parent-child time in other activities (including reading, playing sports, doing chores, helping with art, singing, and teaching about nature) Teachers’ ratings of kids’ self-control, approaches to learning, and behavior problems Parents’ ratings of kids’ impulsivity and overactivity Parents’ social and economic status

Those topics were used to screen for possible ADHD, but they didn’t amount to an official diagnosis of ADHD.

Also, the surveys didn’t note the type of TV shows kids watched. It’s not known if the children were watching educational programs, cartoons, or other programs.

TV as a ‘Babysitter’

The exact cause of ADHD isn’t known. Genetics and other factors may play a role, and kids’ attention problems (though not called ADHD) predate TV, note Stevens and Mulsow.

“It may be that exhausted parents of very active and inattentive children resort to using the television as a ‘babysitter’ more commonly than do parents of less-active and more-attentive children,” they write.

“Thus, the relationship between early television viewing and later attention problems may be linked to child temperament as much as or more than television causing children to be inattentive,” the researchers add.

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

SOURCES: Stevens, T. Pediatrics, March 2006; vol 117: pp 665-672. News release, American Academy of Pediatrics.