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Study Says Background TV Adds Significantly to Children's Exposure

Many families may be spending time relaxing around the TV over the holidays. A recent study suggests, however, that parents and caregivers should be mindful of turning off the set if no one's actually watching to limit hours of unintended exposure for kids.

Researchers found that, on average, children in the United States ages 8 and under were actually exposed to nearly four hours per day of television that was left on as background noise. For kids on the younger side and African-American children, that exposure was more like five and a half hours a day on average; the total was six hours for kids from the poorest families, according to the study by researchers from the University of Amsterdam, in the Netherlands; the University of North Carolina; and the University of Iowa.

Two major factors associated with increased background TV exposure are leaving the television on while no one is viewing and the presence of TVs in kids' bedrooms, the study says.

"When we saw the numbers, we were just shocked. The sheer amount of exposure is shocking," researcher Jessica Taylor Piotrowski, an associate professor of communication research at the University of Amsterdam, told WebMD Health News.

The results were based on a telephone survey of more than 1,450 parents and caregivers of kids between the ages of 8 months and 8 years old who were asked to record their children's exposure to background television in a 24-hour diary as well as report the number of televisions in their home, the number in bedrooms, and how often the television was on, according to a news release from the University of Amsterdam. The results were published in the journal Pediatrics in October.

The hours of unintended exposure are worrisome because experts have suggested that television watching by young children can impact their cognitive development and lead to problems paying attention and interacting with others. The American Academy of Pediatrics warned in October that parents should limit exposure to all screen time for young children, especially those ages 2 and under, because it provides no educational benefit and limits time that could be spent playing and interacting with others—activities that positively impact kids' development.

Researchers offered this advice to help limit kids' screen exposure: Turn off the TV if no one is actively watching and keep TVs out of children's bedrooms.

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