Children who watch more than two hours of TV a night are more likely to be addicted to gambling, cigarettes, cannabis and alcohol when they grow up.
Researchers in New Zealand looked at data from 1,000 people from when they were children to over 45 years of age. Surveys were carried out every two to six years about their TV use, whether they gambled, and what drugs they took.
Results showed those who watched more than two hours of TV on week nights from ages five to 15 years were 29 per cent more likely to have a gambling problem in adulthood than those who spent less time glued to screens.
They were also 20 per cent more likely to be addicted to tobacco products and had had a higher risk of alcohol or cannabis use disorder compared to those who spent less time in front of screens.
The findings may cause concern, given a separate study revealed earlier this month found American children are now spending about four hours staring at screens a day.
Children who spend more than two hours a day glued to screens are significantly more likely to have a gambling or tobacco addiction than their peers, researchers found. They were also more likely to have an alcohol or cannabis addiction (file image)
Researchers suggested endlessly staring at the TV may indicate addictive disorder in children WHY?, and make it easier to slip into another type of addiction.
Dr Helena McAnally, a preventive medicine expert at the University of Otago who led the paper, said: ‘This research indicates that, for some people, television viewing may be an early expression of an addictive disorder or may lead to later substance-related and other addictive disorders.’
The results are observational, meaning scientists could not prove that television drives the risk of problem behaviors later in life.
They cannot definitely rule out other factors such as genetics, parental influence or an absence of social support.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children should not watch more than two hours of television every weeknight.
In what is believed to be a world-first long-term study on TV use and addiction, researchers recruited 1,000 children after birth between 1972 and 1973.
Youngsters were invited for screenings every two years until they were 15 years old, where parents filled out questionnaires on how much television they watched.
Participants were then asked back every three-to-five years for face-to-face interviews to assess four possible addictions.
Average US youngster spends four hours a day on gadgets
The amount of time children spend on screens each day rocketed by more than 50 per cent during the pandemic – the equivalent of an extra hour and twenty minutes.
Researchers compared screen use between January 2020 and March 2022 by looking at data from 46 studies involving nearly 30,000 kids in multiple countries.
Child participants had an average age of nine but ages ranged from age three to 18.
Results showed screen time jumped from a baseline of 162 minutes a day before the pandemic to 246 minutes during the pandemic.
Using digital devices is not in itself risky, but unmoderated screen time can have long-lasting effects on a child’s mental and physical health.
Previous studies indicate excess screen time can cause physical eye and body strain, sleep deprivation, and impaired cognitive abilities.
Spending too much time on gadgets has also been linked to reduced physical activity and a rise in obesity, as well as lower self esteem and poor socialization skills.
Lockdowns and school closures in early 2020 affected more than 1.5 billion children worldwide, a shift that upended their daily lives and system of social interactions with their peers.
Children watched on average two hours and twenty minutes of television every weekday between the ages of five and 15 years.
Overall 62 per cent watched more than the recommended two hours a day and boys were more likely to than girls.
In adulthood, 372 of 1,000 participants (37 per cent) were diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder.
Another 36 per cent (369 of 1,003 participants) were found to have a tobacco use disorder, while 18 per cent (190 of 1,003) had a cannabis use disorder.
Participants were diagnosed with addictions through surveys that asked whether they struggled to control their use, had a physical dependence, face social problems or had a risky use of the substance in question.
Drinking heavily in the US is defined as 14 drinks a week for men, and seven a week for women.
The scientists also found 18 per cent (150 of 861 participants) were diagnosed with a gambling addiction.
This was diagnosed in people who spent a long time considering their gambling experiences, have felt a need to gamble to get more money, or have ever felt restless or irritable when they try to cut down on gambling.
Results were analyzed based on sex, television viewing and socioeconomic status.
Researchers said television watching is normally associated with non-problematic motivations such as enjoyment and relaxation.
But they warned these same motivations are also associated with addictions to other activities — such as gambling or alcohol.
Dr Bob Hancox, an epidemiologist who co-authored the study, said: ‘Public health agencies have put great effort into advocating for safer alcohol use and safe sexual practices.
‘Similar campaigns could be used to advocate for safe screen use.
‘The American Academy of Pediatrics’ previous recommendation of a daily average limit of two hours of screen time may remain a reasonable guide for leisure-time screen time in children and adolescents.’
Increased screen-time is also linked to a higher likelihood of obesity at a young age, raising the risk of a whole host of health conditions later in life.
The study was published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction.
It was drawn from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, also known as the Dunedin Study.