Children who are much exposed to television viewing are at a higher risk of tobacco use and gambling disorders in adulthood, said a new study from the University of Otago.
Study author Dr Helena McAnally says that the study indicates that excessive leisure time television viewing between the age of 5 and 15, may be a risk factor for the development of later disorders.
The researchers used unique, follow-up data from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study (known as the Dunedin Study) to investigate how television viewing in childhood was related to the risk of having a substance use disorder or disordered gambling in adulthood.
“People often talk of television viewing as an addiction; this research indicates that, for some people, television viewing may be an early expression of an addictive disorder or may lead to later substance-related and other addictive disorders,” she says.
Co-author Professor Bob Hancox says excessive leisure time television viewing in childhood and adolescence has been associated with a range of poorer adult health and well-being outcomes, but “to our knowledge this research is among the first to assess how a common, but potentially addictive behaviour, such as television viewing is related to later substance disorder and disordered gambling”.
The study highlights the potential need for guidance on digital health and wellbeing, he says.
Public health agencies have put great effort into advocating for safer alcohol use and safe sexual practices. Similar campaigns could be used to advocate for safe screen use.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics’ previous recommendation of a daily average limit of two hours of screen time may remain a reasonable guide for leisure-time screen time in children and adolescents,” Professor Hancox says.