SEATTLE - Parents who thought their preschoolers were spending time in home-based day cares, taking naps, eating healthy snacks, and learning to play nicely with others may be surprised to discover they are sitting up to two hours a day in front of a TV, according to a study published today.
When added to the two to three hours many parents admit to allowing at home, preschoolers in child care may be spending more than a third of the about 12 hours they are awake each day in front of the electronic baby sitter, said Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrician at Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle and a researcher at the University of Washington.
That's double the TV time he found in a previous study based on parental reports of home viewing, according to findings published in the journal Pediatrics. The study is the first to look at TV watching in child care in more than 20 years.
The figures were derived from a telephone survey of licensed child-care programs in Michigan, Washington, Florida, and Massachusetts. Dr. Christakis said he thought television use was probably under reported.
Of the child-care programs surveyed, 70 percent of home-based child cares and 36 percent of centers said children watch TV daily. The children were watching TV, DVDs, and videos. The study did not track what kind of programs were shown.
"It's not what parents have signed up for," Dr. Christakis said. "I'm not sure how many parents are aware of this."
Other research has connected excessive TV watching during the preschool years with language delay, obesity, attention problems, and aggression.
The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages any television viewing of any kind in the first two years of life and recommends a daily limit of one to two hours of quality programming for older children.
Children go to day care to develop social skills, build on cognitive abilities, and enjoy imaginative play, as well as allowing their parents to work, Dr. Christakis said.
"We know what's good for children and we know what's not," Dr. Christakis said. "High quality preschool can make a very, very positive difference. We're so far from meeting that, that we really have a lot of work to do."
His research found that children watch more TV in home day cares than they do in larger child care centers.
Dr. Christakis said one of the main problems with TV for young children is that it takes away time that could otherwise be spent playing outside, being read to, and talking with adults and other children. The study did not include passive TV time, when the TV is on in the background but no one is actively watching it.
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