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Panasonic touts TV time, but researchers fret over it

A study in contrasts: Panasonic wants families to bond over high-def TV, while Johns Hopkins researchers find too much TV leads to kids' behavioral problems.

This week, it's medicine vs. Madison Avenue.

On Monday, Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health announced study results that for children aged 2.5 to 5.5, watching more than 2 hours of TV a day can lead to behavioral problems and poor social skills. A day later, Panasonic announced its "Bring Back Family Time" advertising campaign that promotes its high-definition TV products as a way to get families to spend more quality time together.

Quotations from the respective announcements couldn't contrast more sharply. Can you match which came from Kamila Mistry, lead author of the Johns Hopkins study, and which came from Debra Bass, vice president of consumer marketing at Panasonic Consumer Electronics?

• "Our goal is to challenge consumers in a way that gets them to consider the amazing high-definition technology that they can use to create special family times that they can enjoy together."

• "Reducing viewing to acceptable levels can reduce the risk of behavioral and social problems."

The answer, obviously: Panasonic is the one that equates TV time with quality time.

Of course, neither position is terribly surprising. Panasonic has a business to run, and giving away to 30 families each $20,000 worth of plasma TVs, video recorders, cameras and Blu-ray players is par for the course. As for Johns Hopkins, Mistry observed that "a number of studies have demonstrated negative effects of heavy television viewing." One from August, for example, found babies who watch TV develop speech more slowly.

There is a new angle from this study, though: the conclusion that problems are reduced if early viewing is reduced by the time the child reaches age 5.5. "Heavy television viewing that decreased over time was not associated with behavior or social problems," the university said.

The study also found an association between having a TV in the child's bedroom at age 5.5 and behavioral problems and poor sleep.

The researchers based their conclusion on a study of 2,707 children in the United States.

Whose advice will prove more important? Given that the study found 20 percent of parents reported their children both 2.5 and 5.5 years old already watch two hours of TV, and 41 percent of children in the study have a TV in their bedroom, it looks to me like Panasonic already has carried the day.