Brain imaging suggests TV stunts kids' brains

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 14 2014 10:30 a.m. MST

A study in Japan monitoring kids' television consumption and tracking resulting impact on the brain has found that more television translates to observable differences in brain development.

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More gray matter in your head is supposed to be a good thing, but a Japanese study has found that sometimes less is more. Researchers focused on an area called the "frontopolar cortex," which is supposed to thin as a child matures.

"These areas show developmental cortical thinning during development, and children with superior IQs show the most vigorous cortical thinning in this area," researchers said in the journal Cerebral Cortex.

"They suggested grey matter could be compared to body weight and said these brain areas need to be pruned during childhood in order to operate efficiently," the Daily Mail reported.

The researchers followed 111 boys and 105 girls, checking back after three years.

"In conclusion, TV viewing is directly or indirectly associated with the neurocognitive development of children," the researchers wrote. "At least some of the observed associations are not beneficial and guardians of children should consider these effects when children view TV for long periods of time," they added.

"Scientists also cannot be sure whether missing out on activities such as reading, playing sports or interacting with friends and family as a result of watching TV could be behind the findings, rather than TV being directly to blame," the Daily Mail added.

Television usage among very young children is a pervasive fact in modern life. "TV viewing starts earlier than other forms of media—often beginning before age two," says the University of Michigan Health System website. "In recent years, TV, video and DVD programs geared to babies and toddlers have come on the market — and now even a cable channel for babies. We don't know yet what effect TV-viewing by babies may have on their development. We do know that time spent watching TV replaces time spent interacting with caregivers and other children. Social interaction is critical to a baby's healthy development."

While the use of MRI brain imagery does bring it into sharper focus, there is nothing very new in the concern of excess television among young children.

"The negative aspect of television on the first two years of brain development," wrote Dr. David Perlmutter in the Huffington Post a few years back, "in terms of displacing other activities that the child would have otherwise engaged in, are of such great concern that the American Academy of Pediatrics recently indicated that children two years and younger should not watch any television whatsoever. But despite this edict from the American Academy of Pediatrics, most parents seem to be deluded into lobbying for and seeking out television programs with appropriate content often as a matter of convenience, since television clearly serves as a babysitter of sorts for parents feeling time-constrained."

Email: eschulzke@desnews.com

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