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Add an inhaler to that TIVO package

Submitted by on Wednesday, 11 March 2009 No Comment

Funny how a study that tells us what we largely already know – sitting around can hurt your health – can trigger such skepticism.

That’s how some have reacted to a British Medical Association journal article published this month that reports children who watch more than two hours of television a day when they’re young are twice as likely to develop asthma later in childhood.

Shoddy research, some say.

Just because there’s a link doesn’t mean television watching causes asthma, others counter.

Another attempt at social engineering, critics moan.

Except it’s none of those.

The research was based on more than 3,000 people whose respiratory health was tracked from birth to 11 1/2 years. The children are among those born of 14,000 mothers participating in the University of Bristol’s Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents, a mammoth undertaking that started with pregnant women in 1991 and has tracked them since.

The findings made an immediate impact far beyond Britain. After researchers reported in 1992 that sleeping position was connected to crib death, the “Back to Sleep” campaign that most of us have heard of by now began.

So clearly, this is no loopy new group with reckless methods and a social agenda.

As for the criticism that a link doesn’t prove a cause, that’s true enough and even the researchers say they don’t quite understand how it all comes together.

They point to other recent research, though, that indicates children’s failure to stretch their airways through exercise when they’re young could prevent the lungs from developing properly and cause later wheezing.

They’re also aware that, children living in ozone-polluted communities aside, exercise often is recommended to ease asthma symptoms.

They stress that it’s not just TV viewing, but any sedentary activity. Television was picked because computers and gaming weren’t big factors when their study started.

Maybe if other activities – or lack thereof -  had been involved, the study wouldn’t  have drawn comments as ridiculous as “gangbangers don’t get asthma” because they’re active.

And maybe if the research involved something not as ubiquitous, controversial and constantly studied, the findings wouldn’t have made so many folks crazy. “How … does that help to know that watching TV is correlated to asthma?” a commenter asked.

It doesn’t help me one bit. My son already has asthma, and he developed it at such an early age that he would have been tossed out of the study because the researchers were looking at possible environmental causes.

But given what we already know or suspect about the hazards of overindulgence in television, it should give most parents a bit more pause before making tube time the default activity for hours on end.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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