Couch potatoes dicing with death, study shows

Carolyn Moynihan
21 Jun 2011
Reproduced with Permission

There's more on the pernicious effects of prolonged television watching in the news. An analysis of eight separates studies on the link between TV watching and diabetes and heart disease should scare couch potatoes off their sofas -- but will it? Can a habit that begins in childhood be broken easily?

Co-author of the study, Dr Frank Hu of the Harvard School of Public Health, found that for every two hours people spent glued to the tube on a typical day, their risk of developing diabetes increases by 20 per cent, their risk of heart disease by 15 per cent, and from any cause at all by 13 per cent -- although in the last case the risk appeared greater after three hours viewing.

In other words, the risk to your health of watching two or three of your favourite serials end to end habitually is similar to having high cholesterol or smoking. And yet TV viewing is the most commonly reported daily activity after working and sleeping. The meta-analysis, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggests that on average, 40 per cent of daily free time is spent on TV in several European countries, and 50 per cent in Australia. In the US, according to a recent report, people who watch TV spend an average of five hours daily on it.

Besides displacing physical activities, TV viewing is also associated with unhealthy eating (in both children and adults) and susceptibility to advertised products. Of course there are other ways of leading a sedentary life (like sitting at a computer reading the news and writing about it!) but, there is (thankfully) a difference:

"This is really the couch-potato syndrome," Hu says. "These are extremely sedentary people who spend several hours on a couch watching TV. They're very passive and their energy expenditure is very low, even compared to other sedentary behaviors like sitting and reading, or sitting while driving."