Too Much TV during Teenage Years May Lead to Depression in Young Adulthood

February 13, 2009
Julia Ernst, MS

Researchers have found that teenagers who watch the most television are more likely to exhibit symptoms of depression as young adults.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have found that teenagers who watch the most television are more likely to exhibit symptoms of depression as young adults.

According to Brian A. Primack, MD, EdM, MS, assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics at the School of Medicine and lead author of the study, every extra hour of television watched during teenage years correlated with an eight percent increase in the chances of having depressive symptoms in adulthood. Additionally, boys were more likely than girls to have these feelings as they entered adulthood.

More than 4,100 teenagers took part in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, conducted by the University of North Carolina. In 1995, participants reported how much television they watched and what, if any, depression that they were experiencing. Then, in 2002, they were reassessed for symptoms; it was discovered that more exposure to television led to a greater incidence of reports of depressive feelings.

Findings of the study were published in the February 2009 issue of the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.

Researchers noted that the study results were somewhat limited, because they were based on self-reporting of television time and feelings of depression. Types of programs that participants were watching was not a factor in the findings, either, which could be a subject for future studies.

Changes in sleeping patterns and social interactions due to more time watching television could contribute to depressive symptoms, the researchers added. Additionally, the content of shows watched might have also played a role. These factors may all contribute to the higher incidence of depressive symptoms among those who watched more television, the researchers noted.

“It is unclear if the TV exposure has a causal relationship with depression,” said Primack in the University of Pittsburgh press release. “The study did show that depressive symptoms seem to follow the television exposure, and not the other way around. Also, we saw these associations even after controlling for multiple variables, such as age, gender, race, socioeconomic status and education.”

To see an abstract of the journal article, click here.