Is our TV addiction fuelling our health issues?
According to Nielsen statistics from December 2014, TV remains America’s favourite entertainment route. Earlier last year it also concluded that the average American watches more than five hours of live TV daily and our consumption increases steadily with age . Which raises the question, has our love of TV gone too far? Or is it the lifestyle that comes with TV viewing causing the principle issues as opposed to TV per se?
As the way in which we digest media has evolved, as have our consumption habits. Our favourite TV shows and films are now available at the touch of a button 24/7. We no longer have to wait in eager anticipation until we get home from a stressful day at work, we can lose ourselves in our preferred viewing matter when we step on the metro or take the bus. We can record whole series to binge watch when chronically hungover or feeling lazy. We can click through commercials to our heart’s content on all our favourite programmes if we’ve recorded them. We can search databases like Netflix or Amazon Prime Instant Video to dig out a James Bond classic, ‘Pretty Woman’ or ‘Scarface’ for the millionth time without having to rummage around in the cupboard for that defunct DVD (or dare I say it, video!). We can catch the grand finale of our favourite TV show on our portable devices from anywhere we find ourselves. The options for keeping us glued to our screens are endless.
Is it any surprise that as our adoration of TV (and now streaming and web surfing) has increased tenfold and our lives have become more sedentary, levels of obesity and other health issues have sky rocketed? Just as we can now hop in our 4x4s to go a meagre mile/km or two to the local store we also have the same incredible convenience when it comes to television and viewing. Even films are released so swiftly that a trip to the cinema could seem like an unnecessary effort for some.
But, what defines an unhealthy TV viewing habit? “In its easy provision of relaxation and escape, television can be beneficial in limited doses. Yes when the habit interferes with the ability to grow, to learn new things, to lead an active life, then it does constitute a kind of dependence and should be taken seriously.” Robert Kubey and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Scientific American
UK Communications regulator, Ofcom, observed in their annual study that our addiction to visual content has gotten so extreme that Britons are spending more time using technology devices than sleeping . A 2011 study which appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association noted that prolonged TV viewing, ‘which is the most prevalent and pervasive sedentary behaviour in industrialized countries’ was associated with the increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and premature death.
The extensive 2011 study was coauthored by Frank Hu, M.D., a Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, in Boston. The research drew upon analysis from more than 175,000 people around the world which generally lasted between 6 and 10 years and collated results from eight different studies . "When put together, the findings are remarkably consistent across different studies and different populations" says Frank Hu. For every three additional hours individuals spent in front of the box, their risk of dying from any cause in respective studies jumped by 13% on average. Extrapolating their findings to the entire U.S. population, the researchers estimate that for every two hours Americans spend watching TV each day, there are 176 new cases of diabetes, 38 additional deaths from heart disease, and 104 additional deaths due to any cause per 100,000 people per year.
TV can also of course have an impact on our mental health - affecting our mood, thinking and behaviour. If programmes generate negative mood associations this can have a knock-on effect on how we process real-life events . There is also a correlation between childhood exposure to TV and later-life health issues . A New Zealand study looked at 26-year-old adults and retrospectively analysed how much TV they had watched in their childhood and the role that had played in their health . Researchers found that viewing more than two hours of TV a day in childhood and adolescence is associated with being overweight, having raised serum cholesterol, smoking and poor fitness in adulthood.
2.6 million US households already solely subscribe to broadband . As our consumer tastes mature and diversify, it is questionable what the future holds for ‘pure’ TV. It seems to be in jeopardy as video content, smartphones and multimedia devices take over, but with this ever increasing excessive access to ‘on demand’ content what will the long-term impact on our health be? As with all luxuries and liberties in our modern society, a measured, sensible and educated approach needs to apply. Taking care of our individual health should remain first and foremost the priority.