TV: Too young, too soon
Can too much TV too young bring on early puberty?
An Italian study suggests that watching too much television may upset children’s hormonal balance and lead to early puberty. Researchers think that radiation from TV and computer screens, and other artificial light sources, decreases production of melatonin, the ‘sleep hormone’.

Melatonin helps regulate the biological clock: levels are naturally lowest in the daylight hours, but increase in the evening as the body winds down.

The incidence of ‘precocious’ puberty – when signs of puberty appear earlier than normal – is increasing throughout the developed world, particularly among girls. One suspected factor is their average weight increase; another is reduced melatonin levels. Sleep disturbances and hyperactivity may also be linked to disturbed melatonin production.

The children who took part in the study usually watched an average three hours’ TV a night. For one week, their parents denied them access to TV, computers and video games, and reduced their exposure to artificial light generally. The children’s melatonin levels shot up.

More research is needed before scientists fully understand the health effects of artificial light. Meanwhile, it won’t hurt to cut down on the time kids spend watching TV; one to two hours daily is plenty. It also seems healthiest if children follow the natural dark-light sleep-wake cycle, and spend less time in artificial light.

Another well-recognised physical effect of too much TV is simply that it encourages kids to be sedentary and can lead to obesity. Prolonged periods in front of TV and computer screens can also cause eye strain.

Do you let your toddler what TV? Did too much TV affect your other children in any way?

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