TV and Junk Food Found to Correlate with ADHD Symptoms
> 9/6/2007 12:30:46 PM

The already bleak portrait painted by repeated stories on inattentive, media-saturated children has grown slightly more ominous: new longitudinal studies seem to confirm a correlation between inordinate amounts of time spent in front of the television and the development of attention deficit problems.

A New Zealand study tracked the viewing habits of 1,000 children born in 1972 and 1973, later testing them for hyperactivity and concentration skills. The sample was chosen at random and the subsequent methods of assessment did not consider whether participating children were at any point diagnosed with the condition. Resulting trends are obvious: the average child aged 5 to 11 spent 2 hours in front of the TV each weekday; by the age of 13, the number rose to just over 3 hours. These statistics are not surprising, and adolescents are known to spend more time in front of the screen, but the study's key finding is a 40% increase in ADHD symptoms observed among children who averaged more than 3 hours of TV a day. This pattern held true beyond all variables, even among the children who watched less TV as they grew older. Speculating about precise reasons for the relationship between TV and attention problems, researchers made the obvious deduction that the constantly shifting images, rapid dialogue and vivid colors that define children's television lead to overstimulation of the brain's cognitive centers. Brain functions developed to accomodate such stimulation then create children who are nearly incapable of focusing on less dynamic tasks such as reading and writing. Of course, children with pre-existing attention problems will also most likely spend more time in front of the tube. The only true conclusion we can draw from the study is that the two variables coincide.

This report very conveniently compliments the clinical evidence of yet another established parental suspicion: that additives present in many of the unhealthy foods eaten by children (many of which are incessantly promoted with animated kids' TV spots) also contribute to the development of ADHD. The complex study, involving several hundred British schoolchildren aged 3 and 8, measured their capacities for attention and concentration over a 6-week period during which they consumed one of two beverages: a drink containing the same colors and preservative components as other popular children's drinks or an additive-free placebo designed to taste the same as the commercial model. After controlling diets to exclude other potential sources of the offending substances, each child was tested by parents, researchers and computer programs. Arranging the results based on which beverage each child consumed, researchers found that those who'd been given the additive drinks tested as considerably less attentive, on average, than their placebo counterparts. While the study did not link specific behaviors to the products in question, it definitively demonstrated the link between their consumption and the decline of subsequent test scores.

So what should concerned parents make of these results? Many already suspected that snack foods and sugary beverages carried adverse health effects. And revising a child's diet to exclude even a small percentage products containing artifical coloring and preservatives may well prove all but impossible, particularly among the millions of families who do not have easy access to markets and restaurants specializing in organic, additive-free foods. The only logical response would seem to be a concerted effort to more carefully scrutinize exactly what their children put into their bodies. While genetics and pre-existing variables play the largest role in determining which children will be affected by the disorder, parenting appears to be a greater factor than previous reports would lead one to believe.

For very young children already diagnosed with ADHD, many experts now recommend a medication-free treatment regimen, asserting that increasingly regimented schedules and an increased focus on personal discipline offer even greater benefits to preschoolers diagnosed with ADHD. In the meantime, limiting the amount of time kids spend eating cookies and drinking sodas in front of the television will most likely not guarantee them a life of unmitigated success, but it will give them at least a slightly greater chance of avoiding ADHD's unwanted influence.

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