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Does infant TV exposure cause fussiness?

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
infants, fussiness, televison exposure, TV, child obesity, developmental delay

Although many pediatricians discourage television watching by infants, many mothers use the tube to soothe and/or entertain them. A new study set out to determine whether infant TV watching resulted in increased fussiness. Researcher affiliated with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina published their findings online on January 7 in the journal Pediatrics.

The objective of the study was to examine the development of television behaviors during the first 18 months of life and identify maternal and infant predictors of infant TV exposure. The researchers noted that excess TV viewing early in life is a concern because the habit has been linked to an increased risk of obesity and developmental delays in preschool children. In addition, the TV viewing habits of young children appear to continue into later childhood and the teen years.

The study group comprised 217 low-income African American mother-infant pairs who participated in the Infant Care and Risk of Obesity Study. The researchers used a technique known as longitudinal logistic models and ordered regression models with clustering for repeated measures across subjects adjusted for infant gender and visit were used to assess maternal and infant predictors of TV exposure and to test whether infants with both maternal and infant risk factors had higher odds of more detrimental TV exposure.

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The researchers found that infants as young as 3 months old were exposed to an average of 2.6 hours of TV and/or videos daily, and nearly 40% of infants were exposed to more than three hours of TV daily by 12 months of age. Infants were especially likely to watch more TV if their mothers were obese or did not graduate from high school. Both factors are associated with more TV viewing. The study revealed infant activity, fussiness, and crying were associated with greater infant TV exposure, whereas maternal education and infant activity were associated with having the TV on during most meals. Infants perceived as being more active or fussier had higher TV exposure, particularly if their mothers also had risk factors for higher TV exposure.

The researchers concluded that understanding the characteristics that shape TV exposure and its biological and behavioral consequences is critical for early intervention. They wrote, “Maternal perception of infant temperament dimensions is related to TV exposure, suggesting that infant temperament measures should be included in interventions aimed at limiting early TV.” They noted that their findings suggest that one way to reduce TV exposure early in life is to give parents alternative strategies to help them calm fussy infants

Take home message:
A major limitation of this study was that it comprised low-income African American mothers. Parental stress can play a role in increased fussiness among their children. Many African American moms are single parents. This situation, coupled with low-income is a significant stress factor. It is also possible that fussy children were more likely to be plopped in front of a TV set to calm them. All things considered, it appears appropriate to limit TV watching of infants. More importantly, their TV exposure should be limited to age-appropriate content such as colorful puppets and melodious songs.

Reference: Pediatrics