TV and Junk Food Found to Correlate with ADHD Symptoms
> 9/6/2007 1:12:18 PM

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

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

This report very convenientlycompliments the clinical evidence of yet another established parentalsuspicion: that additives present in many of the unhealthy foods eatenby 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 schoolchildrenaged 3 and 8, measured their capacities for attention and concentrationover a 6-week period during which they consumed one of two beverages: adrink containing the same colors and preservative components as otherpopular children's drinks or an additive-free placebo designed to tastethe same as the commercial model. After controlling diets to excludeother potential sources of the offending substances, each child wastested by parents, researchers and computer programs. Arranging theresults based on which beverage each child consumed, researchers foundthat those who'd been given the additive drinks tested as considerablyless attentive, on average, than their placebo counterparts. While thestudy did not link specific behaviors to the products in question, itdefinitively demonstrated the link between their consumption and thedecline of subsequent test scores.

So what should concernedparents make of these results? Many already suspected that snack foodsand sugary beverages carried adverse health effects. And revising achild's diet to exclude even a small percentage products containingartifical coloring and preservatives may well prove all but impossible,particularly among the millions of families who do not have easy accessto markets and restaurants specializing in organic, additive-freefoods. The only logical response would seem to be a concerted effort tomore carefully scrutinize exactly what their children put into theirbodies. While genetics and pre-existing variables play the largest rolein determining which children will be affected by the disorder,parenting appears to be a greater factor than previous reports wouldlead 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 focuson personal discipline offer even greater benefits to preschoolersdiagnosed with ADHD. In the meantime, limiting the amount of time kidsspend eating cookies and drinking sodas in front of the television willmost likely not guarantee them a life of unmitigated success, but itwill give them at least a slightly greater chance of avoiding ADHD'sunwanted influence.

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