Intervention program helps reduce television viewing in preschool children


CHICAGO Preschool children who participated in an intervention program that encouraged reading and eating dinner together as a family, watched less television than their peers who did not participate in the program, according to an article in the February issue of The Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

According to information in the article, watching television has several adverse effects on children, including poor behavior and school performance, and higher rates of violence and childhood obesity. The Committee on Public Education of the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests limiting children's television viewing time to a maximum of two hours per day, and discourages television viewing altogether for children younger than two years. Television watching patterns develop during the preschool years, and although intervention programs exist to reduce television viewing in older children, there are none for younger, preschool children.

Barbara A. Dennison, M.D., of the Research Institute, Bassett Healthcare, Cooperstown, N.Y., and colleagues developed and evaluated an intervention program to reduce television/video watching by preschool children (ages 2.6 through 5.5 years).

The researchers randomly assigned 16 preschool and/or daycare centers in rural upstate New York to the intervention group or the control group. Children attending intervention centers received a seven-session intervention program designed to reduce television viewing as part of a longer health promotion curriculum. The program emphasized reading and other alternatives to watching television, and stressed the importance of eating meals together as a family. Children were rewarded for not watching television with stickers and were given a children's book with an anti-television theme. Children attending control centers participated in a safety and injury prevention program. The study was conducted over two school years (fall 2000 through spring 2001), with the intervention program implemented in the second year of the study.

The researchers found that before the intervention, the intervention and control groups watched 11.9 and 14.0 hours of television/videos per week, respectively. Afterward, children in the intervention program reduced their television/video viewing by 3.1 hours per week, and children in the control group increased their viewing by 1.6 hours per week. The percentage of children watching television/videos more than two hours per day decreased from 33 percent to 18 percent in the intervention group compared with an increase of 41 percent to 47 percent in the control group.

"This study is the first to show that a preschool-based intervention can lead to reductions in young children's television/video viewing," the authors write. "Further research is needed to determine the long-term effects associated with reductions in young children's television viewing."

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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