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Wednesday 30 November 2022 9:09am

Excessive television viewing as a child can lead to a higher risk of tobacco use and gambling disorders in adulthood, a new University of Otago study shows.

The researchers used unique, follow-up data from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study (known as the Dunedin Study) to investigate how television viewing in childhood was related to the risk of having a substance use disorder or disordered gambling in adulthood.

Study author Dr Helena McAnally says that the study indicates that excessive leisure time television viewing between the age of 5 and 15, may be a risk factor for the development of later disorders.

“People often talk of television viewing as an addiction; 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,” she says.

Spending time watching television during childhood and adolescence was associated with a higher risk of alcohol, tobacco, cannabis disorders and disordered gambling in adulthood. For tobacco and gambling, these associations were independent of other potential influences on these outcomes such as sex, socioeconomic status, and measures of childhood self-control.

Co-author Professor Bob Hancox says excessive leisure time television viewing in childhood and adolescence has been associated with a range of poorer adult health and wellbeing outcomes, but “to our knowledge this research is among the first to assess how a common, but potentially addictive behaviour, such as television viewing is related to later substance disorder and disordered gambling”.

The study highlights the potential need for guidance on digital health and wellbeing, he says.

“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,” Professor Hancox says.

Publication details:

The Longitudinal Association of Childhood and Adolescent Television Viewing with Substance Use Disorders and Disordered Gambling in Adulthood up to Age 45 International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction

Dr Helena McAnally, Dr Angel Wiki Te Oi, Dr Shyamala Nada-Raja, and Professor Bob Hancox, all from the University of Otago.

For more information, please contact:

Dr Helena McAnally
Study Co-Author
Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Research Unit, Next Generation Study
University of Otago

Professor Bob Hancox
Study Co-Author
Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Research Unit, Next Generation Study
University of Otago

Jessica Wilson
Media Engagement Adviser
External Engagement
University of Otago
Mob +64 21 279 5016

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