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July 2005

Children’s Television Viewing and Cognitive Outcomes: A Longitudinal Analysis of National Data

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Child Health Institute (Drs Zimmerman and Christakis), Department of Health Services, School of Public Health and Community Medicine (Dr Zimmerman), Department of Pediatrics, School of Medicine (Dr Christakis), University of Washington, Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center (Dr Christakis), Seattle.

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2005;159(7):619-625. doi:10.1001/archpedi.159.7.619

Objective  To test the independent effects of television viewing in children before age 3 years and at ages 3 to 5 years on several measures of cognitive outcomes at ages 6 and 7 years.

Design  Using data from a nationally representative data set, we regressed 4 measures of cognitive development at ages 6 and 7 years on television viewing before age 3 years and at ages 3 to 5 years, controlling for parental cognitive stimulation throughout early childhood, maternal education, and IQ.

Results  Before age 3 years, the children in this study watched an average of 2.2 hours per day; at ages 3 to 5 years, the daily average was 3.3 hours. Adjusted for the covariates mentioned earlier, each hour of average daily television viewing before age 3 years was associated with deleterious effects on the Peabody Individual Achievement Test Reading Recognition Scale of 0.31 points (95% confidence interval [CI], −0.61 to −0.01 points), on the Peabody Individual Achievement Test Reading Comprehension Scale of 0.58 points (95% CI, −0.94 to −0.21 points), and on the Memory for Digit Span assessment from the Wechsler Intelligence Scales for Children of −0.10 points (95% CI, −0.20 to 0 points). For the Reading Recognition Scale score only, a beneficial effect of television at ages 3 to 5 years was identified, with each hour associated with a 0.51-point improvement in the score (95% CI, 0.17 to 0.85 points).

Conclusions  There are modest adverse effects of television viewing before age 3 years on the subsequent cognitive development of children. These results suggest that greater adherence to the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines that children younger than 2 years not watch television is warranted.