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10 Ways Watching TV Is Killing You

by Michael Van Duisen
fact checked by Jamie Frater

As much of a national pastime as baseball, television has become ingrained in US society. However, there are a number of detrimental effects which researchers have uncovered. Here are ten ways that watching TV is killing you.

10 Gives You High Cholesterol

A 1990 study at the University of California, Irvine, studied the cholesterol levels in children, investigating whether or not watching TV or playing video games had an effect. What they found was shocking: Children who watched more TV had elevated cholesterol levels; those who sat in front of the television for four hours a day were nearly four times as likely to suffer from heart disease later in life.

The reasons for the elevated levels were that the children who watched television were more likely to eat an unhealthy diet and rarely exercised. (The study mostly followed white middle-class children.)

9 Makes You Violent

In 1960, Professor Rowel Huesmann began a study, trying to document the effect of media violence on children. Ten years later, Huesmann and his team found an indisputable link between media violence and actual violence. Children who were exposed to it were more likely to behave aggressively than those who weren’t.

While people may disagree as to whether or not media violence is a “public threat,” the correlation is said to be similar to that of smoking and lung cancer. Not everyone who smokes gets cancer, just like not everyone who watches violent media becomes violent, but it is a contributing factor.

8 Makes You Dumber

A Johns Hopkins University study led by Dina Borzekowski found that children who watched more than two hours of television a day, especially those with a TV in their own rooms, scored significantly lower on standardized tests than their counterparts. (The study also found that having a computer with Internet access actually increased the scores.)

Also, a New Zealand study discovered that children and adolescents who watched the most television attained the least amount of educational success. Around 1,000 babies were chosen at random and were followed until they were 26 years old. Those who watched less television were more likely to graduate both high school and college.

7 Lowers Your Sperm Count

Published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, a study by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health concluded that men with a sedentary lifestyle, especially one with prolonged television watching, had sperm counts 44 percent lower than men who spent little time in front of the TV. The threshold for the lower sperm count levels was 20 hours per week. (That may seem like a lot, but it’s less than three hours a day.)

Conversely, men who exercised at least 14 hours a week had the highest sperm count. Note that the quality of the sperm itself (i.e. motility and shape) remained unaffected. When asked why television was singled out, Jorge Chavarro, the senior author of the study, said the following: “One of the important mechanisms appears to be TV watchers are exposed to commercials for food. That makes you hungry and eat more.”

6 Turns You Into A Criminal

A research study conducted by a group of British researchers looked at a sample of more than 11,000 children born between 2000 and 2002 and found that those who watched at least three hours of television per day were more likely to engage in antisocial activities such as bullying or stealing. However, when looking at children who played three or more hours of video games per week, no statistical link was found.

One of the reasons put forth for why television could be responsible for the increased risk of criminal activity later in life is that violence plays a prominent role in much of what is aired, which is what a New Zealand study of over 1,000 people concluded. The study stated that the average rate of violent incidents per hour is eight, with children’s programming (cartoons or otherwise) containing even more violence.

5 Lowers Your Odds Of Surviving Colon Cancer

A study of more than 1,500 people who underwent treatment for colorectal cancer concluded that those who watched more television before their diagnosis were much more likely to die within five years than those who watched a moderate to nonexistent amount of television. However, there was no appreciable link between patient mortality and their post-diagnosis television habits.

A separate study, conducted by the US National Cancer Institute, examined over 566,000 people and showed a relatively strong link between television, exercise, and patient survivability but couldn’t prove a causal relationship. According to Hannah Arem, the author of the study: “The risk of dying from colorectal cancer was higher among the individuals who watched more TV [ . . . ] but the associations were not statistically significant.” However, they did conclude what most of these studies do: Some physical activity is better than no physical activity.

4 Inhibits Sleep

In a joint study between MassGeneral Hospital for Children and the Harvard School of Public Health, researchers wanted to examine the effects of a number of different factors during pregnancy and early childhood. The following criteria were examined—how much time an infant was in a room with a running television, how much time older children spent watching television, and whether or not children slept in a room with a television in it.

What they discovered was that each hour of television watching contributed to seven fewer minutes of sleep, and having a television in the bedroom contributed to 30 fewer minutes of sleep. (It also seemed to have a stronger effect on boys than girls.) A similar study in Spain showed that a nine-year-old who watched a minimum of five hours of television per day got one hour less of sleep than an equivalent nine-year-old who watched a maximum of one and a half hours.

3 Decreases Language Development

While it’s not a risk the readers of this list have to worry about for themselves personally, two different studies have shown that the more time babies spend in front of a television, the more slowly they learn to talk.

One study, conducted by the Seattle Children’s Research Institute, followed more than 300 children. They were fitted with audio recorders, which were worn continuously for 12 to 16 hours. It was observed that each hour of television contributed to a significant decrease in the amount of words the babies heard (a decrease of 770 words per recording session). This in turn decreased the amount of vocalization done by the babies, stunting their growth.

A similar study concluded that babies learn better from a live conversation. When nine-month-old US babies were introduced to a Mandarin speaker, they showed an ability to tell the difference between certain speech sounds after only 12 sessions. However, when they were placed in front of a television and shown a recording of Mandarin speaker, they were unable to show any enhanced ability.

2 Makes You Drink More

A joint group of scientists from the Netherlands and Canada collected 80 young males, aged 18–29, and put them in a number of different groups and had them watch television with varying degrees of alcohol consumption on screen. The study found that people drank an average of 1.5 more bottles of beer or wine when watching movies or commercials which heavily featured alcohol than those who watched ones which did not.

Though the study’s authors admitted they didn’t find proof of any long-term change brought on by the television watching, the short-term effects were undeniable. Rutger Engels, one of the researchers, said that “it might work as a cue that affects craving and subsequent drinking in people who are drinkers.”

1 Kills You Early

A study of the television habits of Australians concluded that watching television can dramatically reduce lifespan. The researchers behind the work showed that watching six hours a day can take 4.8 years off your life. Also, every hour of television watched after age 25 decreases life expectancy by 22 minutes.

In a related study performed by the Harvard School of Public Health, scientists concluded that more than three hours per day of television, or similar sedentary activities, increases the chances of premature death by 13 percent (usually via things like diabetes or cardiovascular disease).

fact checked by Jamie Frater