Monday, July 28, 2008

TV Might (Not) Cause Autism

Jill Fallon points to a Cornell University study out today.

The researchers studied autism incidence in California, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington state. They found that as cable television became common in California and Pennsylvania beginning around 1980, childhood autism rose more in the counties that had cable than in the counties that did not. They further found that in all the Western states, the more time toddlers spent in front of the television, the more likely they were to exhibit symptoms of autism disorders.
Studies suggest that American children now watch about four hours of television daily. Before 1980—the first kids-oriented channel, Nickelodeon, dates to 1979—the figure is believed to have been much lower.
The Cornell study looks at county-by-county growth in cable television access and autism rates in California and Pennsylvania from 1972 to 1989. The researchers find an overall rise in both cable-TV access and autism, but autism diagnoses rose more rapidly in counties where a high percentage of households received cable than in counties with a low percentage of cable-TV homes.
If television viewing by toddlers is a factor in autism, the parents of afflicted children should not reproach themselves, as there was no warning of this risk. Now there is: The American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends against any TV for children under the age of 2. Waldman thinks that until more is known about what triggers autism, families with children under the age of 3 should get them away from the television and keep them away.

Update: A couple of comments left here cast doubt on this study. I don't have the inclination to dig deeper, but do read the comments. I have a hunch that if the data were as compelling as the piece indicates we would have heard more about it.


concerned heart said...

There is no way that TV causes as autism. Older paternal age does cause increasing risk of new/non-familial autism and of schizophrenia.

Hoots said...

I report, you decide. Go argue with the links... and researchers at Cornell.
I have no dog in this fight, but when I came across Amanda Baggs last year my awareness of autism kicked up a few notches.
You have a string of blogs at your profile. Perhaps I'll get around to checking them out sometime.
Meantime, thanks for commeting.

Ahem said...

Waldman and his buddies are economists. They are not legit autism researchers. This study is associated with the management school there, not the medical school or any lab, and has not found publication in any non economics associated journal. Follow the links, you'll find this work was done in 2006, not recently, and has been widely debunked. And the high coincidence of the blind and autistic is from radio? Bad conspiracy-theory study that undeservedly got a lot of play, doesn't deserved to leapfrog normal peer review of science journals.

Hoots said...

Thanks for the info. It makes me feel better since we have a grandchild soon turning four with a heavy TV diet.

Rather than chase the rabbit I'll leave the comments to speak for themselves and edit the post. Other readers can do their own homwork.

With Google grabbing this the word will spread.

Anonymous said...

It's important to remember that the study never claimed that "television causes autisim." Slate magazine used an inflamatory title that no researcher would ever claim. In correlational studies, all that can be said is that the two things happened at the same time, and how much of the one increase can be attributed to the other increase. Researchers know that a correlation does not automatically imply causality. The study says the rise in access to cable contributed about 17% to the rise in autism. Basically, that means it is possible increased television watching may contribute - but in order to establish a causal relationship, a controlled study has to be done (e.g., watch 1,000 babies who do and 1,000 babies who don't watch tv during the first 3 years, and assess rates of diagnoses)