Poltergeist Gregg Easterbrook is on Slate today with the stunning results of a Cornell study which all-but-directly links the rise in autism rates to cable-TV wiring. According to the study, as different communities began to get cable wiring in the late 70s/early 80s, which brought them all-day kid channels like Nickelodeon for the first time, their childhood autism rates increased:

. . . 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 . . .

Researchers Michael Waldman and Sean Nicholson concluded that "roughly 17 percent of the growth in autism in California and Pennsylvania during the 1970s and 1980s was due to the growth in cable television."

Skeptical? In denial? Well, sit down, because there's also this: In areas which had much higher than average rainfall in a given time period, driving children inside to watch cable TV, the autism rates shot up even more:

In counties or years when rain and snow were unusually high, and hence it is assumed children spent a lot of time watching television, autism rates shot up; in places or years of low precipitation, autism rates were low. Waldman and Nicholson conclude that "just under 40 percent of autism diagnoses in the three states studied is the result of television watching."

Easterbrook points out that "whether excessive viewing of brightly colored two-dimensional screen images can cause visual-processing abnormalities is unknown [and t]he Cornell study makes no attempt to propose how television might trigger autism." Possibly to keep FD from hurling himself out the window of a high-rise, Easterbrook offers the possibility that there could be other causes, such as poor inside air quality - maybe kids who stay inside are more affected and more likely to develop autism. Or maybe not:

If screen images cause harm to brain development in the young, the proliferation of . . . TV-like devices may bode ill for the future. The aggressive marketing of Teletubbies, Baby Einstein videos, and similar products intended to encourage television watching by toddlers may turn out to have been a nightmarish mistake.

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.

Longtime readers here know that the research on TV and kids goes back and forth, and back again. This study certainly won't be the last word. But there's a glimmer here of possibly a massive battle brewing between the pediatric establishment and, say, Viacom/Apple/Sony. If so, friends, you'll have to take sides. Needless to say, if this study hits the press in a big way, we'll be curious to see Noggin's ratings a few months down the line.


Packshot We've been putting this fight off for months now, but a confluence of events has now put it squarely on our plate: Should we allow Fellow to Yu-Gi-Oh? He's known for a while that only slightly bigger kids spend a great deal of time playing the pointless Japanese card-battle game, and that they love it. We've always dismissed his requests for card sets by telling him "it's really fighting game," or "it's only for big kids." But now when we drop him off at first grade each morning, a handful of his very own classmates are trading spells for life points, dragons for flutes, etc., etc. Fellow at some point found about a half-dozen cards on the street one day, then got a few more as part of a birthda-party goody bag. He brings these into school each day and trades them with his pals, we presume for far weaker cards. But he doesn't care: He's itching for more.

And now, Scholastic Inc., in its current Lucky Book Club flyer (full disclosure: Et tu, former employer?) is offering Fellow an unbeatable offer: For just $4.95, a huge starter kit of cards, books, and other Yu-Gi-Oh apparati. Being a bright Fellow, he knows this is a good offer, and he feels he should have it.

So, we ask you, visitors, to advise us: Should we let him have it? Does anyone out there have five- or six-year-old Yu-Gi-Oh players? If so, how miserable has it made you/how happy has it made them?


Doctors are seaching for the causes of some recently-discovered early-onset puberty clusters, in which children as young as preschoolers have been affected. One probable cause is exposure to "endocrine disruptors," testosterone, estrogen, and the like. The Times reports on cases of premature puberty linked to the use of a shampoo containing "estrogen and placental extract," and exposure to a father's "concentrated testosterone skin cream bought from an Internet compounding pharmacy for cosmetic and  sexual performance  purposes."

Wow. Tough to explain that one to the wife.


Woman gives birth to her daughter's baby

A Japanese woman in her 50s gave birth to a child she had carried for her daughter, who was unable to conceive as she had her womb removed due to cancer, an obstetrician said on Sunday.

The case is likely to further stir debate in Japan about births by surrogate mothers, which both the government and a key medical association oppose.

Yahiro Netsu, the head of a maternity clinic in the central prefecture of Nagano, told a news conference that the woman gave birth in the first half of 2005 using an egg from her daughter and sperm from the daughter's husband, both in their 30s.

Kyodo news agency said it was the first time in Japan that a woman has acted as a surrogate mother for the child of her daughter -- effectively delivering her grandchild.

Netsu said the baby -- whose gender has not been revealed -- was first registered as a child of the surrogate mother and later adopted by the daughter and her husband.


A new study from the University of Maryland finds that parents across the country -- single or married, working or non-working -- are spending more time with their children, and that dads are doing more child care and housework than ever before.

Parents interviewed say they've solved their work-life balance by dropping cooking and cleaning from their schedules. (Sound familiar?) And surprise is expressed that all those icy working mothers are actually making time for their kids:

“We might have expected mothers to curtail the time spent caring for their children, but they do not seem to have done so,” said one of the researchers, Suzanne M. Bianchi, chairwoman of the department of sociology at the University of Maryland. “They certainly did curtail the time they spent on housework.”

October 17, 2006 | Permalink | Subscribe to RSS


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