In June of this year, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association demonstrated that watching two or more hours of television daily raises the risk of heart disease and diabetes, and now a report from Australia has calculated how many years a daily TV viewing habit can shave off life expectancy. Investigators from the University of Queensland suggest that every hour spent watching TV lowers life expectancy by nearly 22 minutes. The study team reviewed data on more than 11,000 individuals age 25 and older and found that sitting in front of the TV for an average of six hours a day may mean a loss of nearly five years of life and that watching six hours of television daily may shorten life even more than smoking and obesity. The researchers looked at data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle study and calculated their results based on the 9.8 billion hours of TV that participants watched in 2008, which would add up to the loss of 286,000 life years. The findings were published online August 15 by the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
My take? This report echoes earlier evidence that a TV habit can be unhealthy. In the past, my objections to watching a lot of television have focused on associated unhealthy behaviors: eating too much junk food or using television for stress management instead of utilizing more effective approaches, such as breath work and other relaxation techniques. Clearly, time spent watching television can eat into available time for daily exercise, which we all need for optimum health. The Australian researchers noted that the effects of watching television elsewhere in the world are likely to be comparable which they claim represents a public health problem on par with smoking, obesity and an inactive lifestyle.