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Extended TV time could come at a price; study links it to greater risk of early death, diabetes and heart disease

BOOSTER SHOTS: Oddities, musings and news from the
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June 15, 2011|By Marissa Cevallos, HealthKey / For the Booster Shots blog
  • TV watching--hours and hours of it--may have health repercussions. A new study links watching TV with an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and early death.
TV watching--hours and hours of it--may have health repercussions. A new… (Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles…)

Yes, yes, slouching in front of a TV might be hazardous to our health. But just how hazardous? Researchers have crunched the numbers in an attempt to quantify how much the risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and death increases with time spent in front of the TV. And the figures aren’t pretty.

To make the calculations, Dr. Frank Hu from the Harvard School of Public Health and colleagues analyzed eight studies that included data on these health conditions and time spent watching TV.   

For every two hours of TV watching, researchers found, the risk of Type 2 diabetes increased by 20%, the risk of heart disease increased by 15%, and the risk of death during the follow-up period increased by 13%. The association for this latter risk was especially strong for people watching more than three hours of TV per day.

All of this is not to say that TV will kill you -- or give you heart disease or diabetes. Obviously.

But, as the researchers point out, not only does TV time typically exclude physical activity (treadmills with TV screens aside), people also tend to eat high-fat foods and high-sugar drinks while watching TV. The results were published online in the Journal of the American Medical Assn.

The authors don’t go as far as to suggest that stepping away from the TV, at least sometimes, would necessarily improve health. They simply write:

“Further study is needed to determine whether reducing prolonged TV viewing can prevent chronic disease morbidity and mortality.”

Then perhaps the “further study” should commence as soon as possible. The Nielsen Co. reports that the average American uses the TV more than five hours each day.

healthkey@tribune.com

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