Is too much TV as dangerous as smoking?

Could tele vi sions soon come with stomach-churning warn ing la bels like those on cig a rette packs? A new study of Aus tralians in di cates that watch ing TV for an av er age of six hours a day could short en life ex­pect an cy by al most five years, ri val ing smok ing in sev er ity as a risk fac tor for dis ease.
To put it an oth er way, eve ry hour of TV watched af ter age 25 may slice about 22 min utes off your life, an effect equi val ent to that of two cigarettes, said the re search ers, whose find ings are pub lished on­line in the Brit ish Jour nal of Sports Med i cine.
Sed en tary be hav ior—as dis tinct from too lit tle ex er cise—is as so ci at ed with a high er risk of death, par­tic u larly from heart at tack or stroke. Watch ing TV ac counts for a sub stantial part of sed en tary ac ti vity, but its im pact on life ex pect an cy has n’t been as sessed, say the au thors, J. Lennert Veer man of the Uni vers ity of Queens land in Aus tral ia and col leagues.
They used pre vi ously pub lished da ta on the rela t ion ship be tween TV view ing time and death based on the Aus tral ian Di a be tes, Obes ity and Lifestyle Study, a re cent sur vey of 11,000 Aus tralians aged 25 or old er. The re search ers al so used Aus tral ian na tional popula t ion and mor tal ity fig ures for 2008.
The au thors then cre at ed a “risk frame work” for the Aus tral ian popula t ion in 2008, based on sur vey par ti ci pants’ an swers to ques tions about the to tal amount of time they had spent in the pre vi ous week watch ing TV or videos. The au thors es ti mat ed that Aus tral ian adults aged 25 and old er spent a to tal of 9.8 bil lion hours in front of the tube. This in turn led them to cal cu late that some one who spends a life­time av er age of six hours a day watch ing TV can ex pect to live just less than five few er years than some one who does not watch TV.
Oth er re search has found that life long smok ing is as so ci at ed with the short ening of life ex pect an cy by more than four years af ter the age of 50, with the av er age loss of life from one cig a rette cal cu lated to be 11 min utes—equivalent to half an hour of TV watch ing, ac cord ing to the au thors’ frame work.
“Sub stantial loss of life may be as so ci at ed with pro longed TV view ing,” the au thors wrote. “While we used Aus tral ian da ta, the ef fects in oth er industrialized and de vel op ing coun tries are likely to be com­pa ra ble, giv en the typ ic ally large amounts of time spent watch ing TV and si m i lar i ties in dis ease pat­terns.”
They con clud ed: “If these [fig ures] are con firmed and shown to re flect a caus al as socia t ion, TV view ing is a pub lic health prob lem com pa ra ble in size to es tab lished behavioral risk fac tors.”
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