The survey reinforces many other studies indicating that young children spend too much time with the tube. Now research should focus more on what viewing is best, the scientists said.
"That is the frontier; it's where this research needs to go," said Frederick Zimmerman, lead author of the study and an associate professor of health services at the University of Washington.
Scientists at the UW and Seattle Children's Hospital Research Institute sampled 1,009 parents in Washington and Minnesota and found that many children start regularly watching at 9 months. Children younger than 1 year old averaged an hour of TV a day, and by age 2 it was more than 90 minutes.
The parents, all with children age 2 months to 2 years, said their major reasons for letting them watch were that it's educational and entertaining - and served as a baby-sitter. But that result counters widespread notions that parents use TV only as a baby-sitter, the scientists said.
"Parents are clearly hungry for truly educational content for children younger than 2 years," the researchers reported in the May issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.
"More research is urgently required to determine whether it is realistic to produce genuinely educational content for children younger than 2 years, and if so, what would it be."
Zimmerman said he and his colleagues are planning research that will measure the effects of selected programming over at least a year. The study will look at the impact of the programming on language ability, behavior and learning.
Previous research has reported that children who watch excessive amounts of TV have a higher risk of attention problems, obesity, aggressive behavior and low scores on reading and math tests.
The new UW-Children's study was released Monday, almost simultaneously with a different report from the journal Pediatrics that says that about 20 percent of toddlers younger than age 2 have television sets in their bedrooms. The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages TV watching before age 2 and recommends that older kids view no more than two hours a day, limited to educational programs. Zimmerman and his colleagues said parents in their study generally believed that their children watched less TV than average. But their perception of the average was much higher than it actually is. The researchers said pediatricians should encourage parents to watch TV with their children. That could better foster parent-child interactions that are associated with language learning in infancy, they said. Co-authors of the study are Dimitri Christakis of Children's and Andrew Meltzoff of the UW. (AP) Â© 2007, The Seattle Times. Visit The Seattle Times Extra on the World Wide Web at http://www.seattletimes.com/ Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. AP-NY-05-07-07 2225EDT