That may sound a little melodramatic, but this is what recent research suggests, bluntly put: watching TV for more than 2 hours per day is linked with an increased risk of death.

TV watching is the number one sedentary activity of our time.  Sixty percent of American adults watch TV for more than two hours per day on average, with a slightly lower number of hours logged for our western european counterparts.

Several studies have examined the association between TV watching and risk of diabetes, heart disease, or death.   The data from several of these studies was recently brought together in a meta analysis by Grøntved and colleagues in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  Upon evaluation of all prospective cohort studies in this area in the last four decades, they found that over 7-8 years of follow up, watching TV for two hours per day is associated with:

  • a 20% increased risk of getting type 2 diabetes;
  • a 15% increased risk of cardiovascular disease;
  • and a 13% increased risk of death.

Put another way, for every 2 hours of TV watched daily, the authors found that per 100,000 people, there would be 176 cases of type 2 diabetes and 104 deaths per year. For mortality (death) risk, they found the risk really started to accelerate above 3 hours per day of TV watching.

It may not seem like rocket science that a sedentary activity like TV watching is associated with increased risk, but it turns out that the relationship is much more complex than that.  As blogged previously, as many as 25% of the day’s calories are consumed in front of the tube, and TV watching results in a preference for calorie laden foods (advertising may be partly to blame here).  In addition, emotion, adrenaline, and/or stress generated from watching your favorite, riveting TV program, may result in increased hunger as well.

It is more clear than ever before: let’s work to keep our tube time to a minimum and spend the time being active instead!

Dr Sue © 2011

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