NewsFlash: Television Makes You Stupid

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The results are in from a 20-year study: Teenagers who watch several hours of television a day do worse at school and are less likely to graduate than their peers.

The good news is, this isn't a bad thing. Maybe I can get my fries a little faster with more of you guys working at McDonald's?

The 20-year study, involving nearly 700 families in upstate New York, US, found that those watching more than three hours of TV a day were twice as likely not to continue their education past high school. The researchers say their study is the first to show that attention problems linked to TV viewing could be the cause of academic failure, since they controlled for learning difficulties and behavioral problems at the start of the study.

But other experts say the link is unclear: teens with learning disorders might simply be more likely to watch many hours of TV because they find activities such as reading textbooks too challenging.

In the mid-1980s, Jeffrey Johnson of the New York State Psychiatric Institute, US, and colleagues began interviewing 14-year olds from 678 families in the upper regions of the state about their television viewing habits. They also asked the teens’ parents whether the youngsters had any behavioural or academic difficulties.

Consistent habits
The researchers continued collecting information from the parents and interviewed the teens again at age 16, and again at ages 22 and 33.

At age 14, most of the children watched between one and three hours of television each day, while 13% watched more than four hours, and 10% watched less than one hour. Their viewing habits remained nearly identical at ages 16 and 22.

Johnson's team found that 30% of students who watched more than three hours of television at age 14 had attention problems in subsequent years. By comparison, only 15% of those who watched less than one hour of TV at age 14 showed the same attention deficits later on.

Nearly one-third of those who watched many hours of television fell behind or failed to graduate by age 22. By comparison, only 10% of the teens who watched less than an hour of TV a day went on to perform poorly in school or drop out.

Those who watched three hours or more hours of TV had an 82% greater chance of not graduating or falling behind compared with teens who watched less than an hour – even after controlling for other factors, such as the learning difficulties the teens had at age 14 and their socio-economical status.





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