The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, a nationally representative longitudinal data set, was used at the University of Washington, Seattle, to test the hypothesis that early television exposure (at ages 1 and 3) is associated with attentional problems (AP) at age 7. The hyperactivity subscale of the Behavioral Problems Index was determined as the main outcome measure, and >1.2 standard deviations above the mean classified the children with attentional problems. Hours of TV exposure daily at ages 1 and 3 years were the main predictor of AP at 7 years. Ten percent of children (1278 at age 1 and 1345 at age 3) had attentional problems at age 7, and hours of TV viewed per day at both ages were associated with AP. A 1-SD increase in number of hours of TV viewing at age 1 and 3 is associated with a 28% increased in probability of AP at age 7. [1]

COMMENT. Limitations to this study outlined by the authors include the following: 1) The measure used for attentional problems is not necessarily indicative of ADHD and the results do not prove a relation between TV and ADHD; 2) parental reports of TV viewing times were relied on; 3) attentional problems caused by parental neglect may have lead to excessive TV viewing; 4) the content of the TV programs was unknown, and some programs may be more detrimental than others. Future studies should quantify more specifically the diagnosis of “attentional problem”. [2]

Aggressive behavior and obesity have previously been linked to excessive TV and video game use (Robinson et al, 1993, 1999, 2001). Limiting TV exposure in formative years of brain development, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (none for children <2 years old, no more than 1-2 hours a day for older children), may reduce children’s subsequent risk of developing ADHD. It should be stressed, however, that multiple factors are involved in the etiology of ADHD, genetic and environmental, and the syndrome was well known in the pre-television era.

Early experience and brain function and structure were investigated in 30 preterm infants (14 controls and 16 experimental) at Children’s Hospital, Boston, MA [3]. The Newborn Individualized Developmental Care and Assessment Program (NIDCAP) was initiated within 72 hours of admission to the intensive care unit and continued to age 2 weeks, corrected for prematurity. The experimental group showed significantly better neurobehavioral functioning at 2 weeks and 9 months assessments. Magnetic resonance diffusion tensor imaging and other tests demonstrated better function and more mature fiber structure for experimental infants compared to controls. Quality of experience before term may accelerate brain development in preterm infants.