SpongeBob Squ….Oh look, a butterfly!

September 13, 2011

New research finds that rapidly-paced cartoons such as SpongeBob Squarepants may be associated with difficulty concentrating for preschool children.

The study out of the University of Virginia, finds that preschoolers who watched just nine minutes of SpongeBob were “significantly impaired” in tests that measure a person’s ability to stay on task. These tests measured the child’s ability to problem solve, follow rules and remember information.

One of the study’s weaknesses was its size, only consisting of 60 four-year olds. The children were split into three groups. One group watched SpongeBob, the second watched an educational cartoon (Caillou on PBS), and the third group spent the nine minutes drawing.

The children who watched the fast-paced cartoon did not perform as well in all tasks, compared with the other two groups: 15 percent of the children who watched SpongeBob passed the problem-solving task, compared with 35 percent of those who watched the educational cartoon, and 70 percent of those who spent their time drawing.

According to MSNBC, the authors write SpongeBob may not have the same negative effects on attention in older children. They also acknowledge it is unknown how long the negative effects may last.

Dr. Dimitri Christakis, the author of a commentary accompanying the study, tells TIME:

  “Too many children watch too much TV… But it’s at least as important to figure out what they should watch. SpongeBob, for what it’s worth, isn’t even supposed to be viewed by kids between the ages of 3 to 5. That alone is a guide for parents: watch age-appropriate content.”


Kids screen out on TV

November 10, 2010

By Cindy Merrick

New research, believed to be the first nationally representative study to assess cumulative “screen time” in young children at an individual level, finds that preschoolers are watching on average as many as four hours per day. The longitudinal study “Preschoolers’ Total Daily Screen Time at Home and by Type of Child Care.” was conducted on almost 9,000 preschool-aged children and published in the journal Pediatrics.

This contrasts with the policy statement of the American Academy of Pediatrics(AAP) on television viewing (including DVD and movie-watching) for children, which recommends that parents “limit children’s media time (with entertainment media) to no more than 1 to 2 hours of quality programming per day.” The AAP cites research on the link between media violence and real-life aggressive behavior as a reason for doing so. It also warns against general negative health effects from too much TV, in areas like academic performance, self-image, nutrition and obesity, and substance abuse.

According to the new study’s findings, at preschool ages, children are exceeding the Academy’s recommendation by at least doubling the Academy’s recommendation daily. Some nearly triple the maximum, where children in home-based child care environments are consuming an average of 5.6 total hours per day, 33 percent of that taking place during child care hours. According to these numbers, the amount watched during home-based child care hours alone is nearly the maximum recommended for each entire day. And even children with no external caregiver situations average 4.4 hours per day. Smaller totals were found among preschoolers in the Head Start program.

Interestingly, the authors found that “For more socioeconomically vulnerable children, being in Head Start is associated with less average daily screen time compared with home-based care or parental care only, suggesting a potentially protective effect.”

It is important to note that the study in no way establishes a causal link between child behavior or development and hours in front of a TV, nor does it make any conclusion about individual day-care choices. But the degree of sedentary behavior indicated by such consumption patterns should raise concern in light of the prevalence of childhood obesity.

The study used data from a nationally representative sample of children born in 2001, to measure reported daily screen time per child based on the sum of a parent’s and day care provider’s (if different from parent) responses. The final model controlled for the child’s race and sex, for the mother’s education level and marital status, and for family income.

Vital Statistics

January 25, 2010

Who would have thought…study finds people are happier on the weekend

New research finds that people are in a better mood on the weekend. This study falls directly into our “Department of Obvious Research” category; however, there are some findings worth noting.

Not only do people feel better mentally, but physically as well. The survey results showed that people also feel more competent on the weekend than during the week, and that mostly everyone is happier on the weekend, including those who are happy at their jobs. Happiness transcended a variety of factors including profession, salary, age and marital status.

Study suggests self-control is contagious

After conducting a series of five experiments, a research team out of the University of Georgia says that self-control is contagious. Their results show that simply observing or thinking about someone with good self-control increases one’s own willpower. This sounds like good news; however, they also found the opposite to be true. Those with bad self-control influence those around them negatively.

This study may be the first to show that self-control is infectious across all types of behaviors. For example, they discovered if someone observers a person with high self-control when it comes to diet, this could make the observer more likely to exhibit self-control with a variety of their own personal goals.

High levels of Omega-3 may help you live longer

New research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds yet another benefit to omega-3 fatty acids – it may just help you live longer. Research finds that heart patients who consumed high amounts of omega-3 had longer telomeres, the section of DNA associated with life span.

Telomere length was measured over a period of five years in 608 patients who had previous heart problems. Compared to patients with low omega-3 levels in their white blood cells, those with high levels of the fatty acid had considerably less shortening of telomeres over the five year span.

Kids spending 8 hours a day using media

The amount of time children in the U.S.  spend using media had increased drastically to 8 hours a day. The Kaiser Family Foundation has found that over the past five years, the amount of time 8 to 18 year olds have spent using multiple types of media has increased by 1 hour and 17 minutes a day.

Over 2,000 American children between the ages of 8 and 18 were surveyed for this study. The report says this dramatic rise is in part due to the increased use of cell phones and iPods. In a period of five years, the number of children with cell phones has increased from 39 percent to 66 percent, and the number of kids with iPods has increased from 18 percent to 76 percent.

The toll of multiple traumatic events in childhood

October 7, 2009

A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that children who deal with multiple traumatic events might suffer the consequences later in life. Children who experienced at least six adverse events during their childhood died approximately twenty years earlier than children who had not dealt with multiple stressful events.

The children with the most adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) died on average at age 60, while children who did not experience a high number of ACEs lived to about 79.

According to Science Daily, the study consists of data from 17,337 adults between 1995 and 1997. Each participant completed a standardized medical survey that included questions about adverse experiences in childhood, such as whether they had been verbally or physically abused, lived in a household with substance abuse, or have divorced parents.

At the end of 2006, the researchers used the National Death Index to discover who had passed away. Dr. Robert Anda, co-primary investigator of the study, tells ABC News:

“The stressors tend to accumulate in people’s lives, and it appears that affects the way they develop and can affect the way they think and their emotional control.”

Dr. Anda goes onto explain that children who experience trauma are more likely to smoke, drink, use drugs, and be overweight – all risk factors that lead to health issues.

The researchers point out that causation cannot be determined from this one study; however, the association they found between ACEs and shorter life span deserves further investigation.

The study will be published in the November issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Children of the (candy) corn

October 2, 2009

We already know that consuming candy daily can lead to a variety of health issues, but can it cause behavior problems as well? New research out of the University of Cardiff in the U.K. finds an association between children eating candy everyday and violent crime.

The researchers used data from the 1970 British Cohort Study. Out of the 17,500 participants, 69 percent of those convicted for a violent offense by the age of 34 had reported consuming candy or chocolate almost daily as a child. Only 42 percent were found to be non-violent.

Simon Moore, lead study author, tells Time that they initially thought the link was due to other factors. However, even after controlling for factors such as parenting style and the level of family income, the relationship between candy consumption and violent behavior remained significant.

Moore explains the possible link between sweets and aggressive behavior:

“Our favored explanation is that giving children sweets and chocolate regularly may stop them [from] learning how to wait to obtain something they want… Not being able to defer gratification may push them towards more impulsive behavior, which is strongly associated with delinquency.”

This study is published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Reasons not to panic over Ritalin cocaine link

February 2, 2009

By Maia Szalavitz, Senior Fellow, STATS

Watch for widespread panic over a new press release from the National Institute on Drug Abuse finding that Ritalin has similar effects to cocaine in the brains of mice, excerpted here. The fear raised by this finding is that giving children Ritalin could increase their later risk of addiction by causing changes to the brain similar to those seen in cocaine addiction.

Commenting in the release, NIDA director Nora Volkow said,

Studies to date suggest that prescribed use of methylphenidate in patients with ADHD does not increase their risk for subsequent addiction…This study highlights the fact that we know very little about how methylphenidate affects the structure of and communication between brain cells.”

That’s all true; however, even if mice had exactly the same brain changes as humans, this study would not prove that Ritalin as used in treatment causes the same changes as recreational cocaine use. That’s because most children take Ritalin orally—and the mice were injected with it.

A great deal of research shows that route of administration is critically important in the development of addiction: drugs that reach the brain quickly like injectables are far more addictive than those taken orally.

It’s true that the cocaine in the study was also injected—but it’s also the case that injecting cocaine is far more likely to produce addiction than snorting or eating it is. Similarly, smoking crack is more addictive than snorting powder, because smoking gets the drug to the brain about as fast as injecting, some claim faster.

If your child is injecting his Ritalin, this study might give you reason for concern—but if your child is shooting anything, you don’t need a study to tell you to worry!


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