Research is showing more and more the serious negative health effects of TV time. Fortunately, health experts say there’s one thing you can do to make your viewing habits healthier.
We have a serious TV habit, and it’s only growing. In 2014, the average American watched five hours of TV a day, according to Nielsen data. And more than 115 million U.S. households had at least one TV — up 1.2 percent from 2013.
But our love of TV could be slowly killing us. Research shows sitting down and watching TV can do everything from raise diabetes risk to shorten life expectancy. And according to a recent study from the University of Pittsburgh, each hour of TV we watch daily increases our risk of developing diabetes by 3.4 percent.
For the study, researchers analyzed data from 3,234 overweight U.S. adults who had participated in the 2002 Diabetes Prevention Program study, and found that those who watched TV less often also ended up sitting less during their workday, and subsequently reduced their risk of developing diabetes compared to their counterparts who watched more TV.
While these study participants were at a higher risk of developing diabetes, lead researcher Bonny Rockette-Wagner, PhD, says the data still applies to the rest of us. “In general, I would suggest that people not get too caught up in the specific numbers and stick with the take home message that, in addition to setting goals for improvement in activity and diet, people should become more aware of how much time they spend sitting,” she tells Yahoo Health. “It’s all about healthy balance.”
But the drawbacks of watching TV don’t end there. A 2011 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that every hour of TV watched by the study’s 11,000 participants shortened life expectancy by 22 minutes. Another study by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health discovered that prolonged TV viewing (two hours a day or more) was linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death.
The negative implications of TV watching aren’t just limited to adults — a study published earlier this year discovered that children who spent more than two hours a day in front of a TV had a 30 percent greater chance of developing high blood pressure. That likelihood increased to 50 percent for those who had less than an hour of physical activity a day as well.
What is it about watching TV that’s so bad for health? “If you watch TV for long periods of time, you’re going to gain weight,” Maria T. Vivaldi, MD, an assistant physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, tells Yahoo Health. “That’s going to translate to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.”
Vivaldi explains that even if someone watches TV for extended periods of time and doesn’t gain weight, there’s still a greater risk for developing heart problems. “Inactivity is responsible for 12.2 percent of the global burden of heart attacks,” she says.
Despite the scary findings, Vivaldi doesn’t think people need to ditch TV altogether — they just need to be smart about the way in which they watch it. Her advice: “If you like a good show, get on the treadmill and watch it. Don’t watch your show unless you’re on the treadmill.”