Watching TV can increase obesity, up the risk of chronic disease, slow brain development, and shorten lives. Some of this may be because of hereditary or social factors, but it’s most likely bad for you.
Watching TV is sedentary. Generally, you're sitting down when you do it. You're spending time sitting still instead of doing other things. Being sedentary for long periods of time increases your risk of becoming obese.
Moreover, we move even less when seated in front of the TV than we do with other sedentary activities. You're at risk of more than putting on weight. Research published in the journal Diabetologia estimated that every hour spent watching TV per day increases your risk of developing diabetes 3.4 percent.
Why else might this be? Aside from being a particularly sedentary activity, watching TV might also affect your food choices. You're more likely to eat junk food when you're sitting in front of the TV, which can increase your risk not just for diabetes or obesity but heart disease and other chronic conditions linked to junk food's higher ratio of processed ingredients.
Watching television is also socially isolating: when you're watching, you're spending less time talking to and engaging emotionally with other people. Having an active social life is important for your health and is linked to a number of long-term benefits. You're depriving yourself of those benefits when you're spending time in front of the box.
These effects are particularly pronounced in children. Children younger than 5 who spend time in front of the box develop language skills more slowly and have reduced attention spans. Children younger than ten are at a pronounced risk of developing heart disease or obesity later in life. Scientific American has written about studies that link depression and risk of committing a crime to childhood television exposure.
There's some evidence that these worrying trends might be linked not just to watching television but to hereditary or economic factors. If you have kids, however, err on the safe side: you should take care not to use the television as a babysitter - the younger they are, the less time they should spend watching.
Finally, watching television is linked to an early death, according to the American Heart Association. We live in the so-called "golden age" of television, and there's plenty to recommend the quality programming that's lauded and analyzed by our critics. Limit your exposure, however - too much of a good thing can lead to a whole range of problems.
Possible short-term side effects
- eye strain
Possible long-term side effects
- increased risk of diabetes
- increased risk of obesity
- can interfere with childhood development
- socially isolating
- may lead to an early death
- can be educational