9 Ways Watching TV Is Bad For Your Health

Mobile devices make it easier to consume more media – at our peril.

10/26/2015 08:31 am ET

Want to get fat, wreck a romantic relationship, perhaps lower your chance of getting pregnant – if you’re trying – and shorten your life expectancy? Grab the remote. Click away to see how watching TV, particularly prolonged viewing, can hurt your health and reduce your quality of life. Spoiler: It’s more than just sitting that does the damage. It’s what we watch, too, from the effect of TV romance on real-world love to ads that make us want to pig out.

1. It may expand your waistline
Here's another reason to skip the commercials, in addition to watching less TV: “Most people think, 'Well you spend a lot of time sitting around, so you gain weight.' But most of the impact is just because of the marketing and advertising during that time that tends to increase intake of a range of unhealthy food products,” says Steve Gortmaker, a professor of the practice of health sociology in the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

2. Binge-watching may increase your risk for diabetes
Research on people at higher risk for developing diabetes found that for each hour spent watching TV per day, the risk of developing the disease increased 3.4 percent. Rather than focusing on what participants watched, Andrea Kriska, an epidemiologist at the University of Pittsburgh and senior author of the research published in April in the journal Diabetologia, says TV watching was tracked as an indicator of time people spent sitting. Lead author Bonny Rockette-Wagner says other research seems to indicate that we move even less while watching TV compared with other sedentary activities, like sitting at work.

3. It may be bad for baby-making
Although there’s evidence that watching TV, including in the bedroom, could increase amorousness, a Harvard study found that men who watched more than 20 hours of television per week had 44 percent fewer sperm than guys who didn’t watch TV. Increased activity, by comparison, was associated with higher sperm counts. Previous research also associates prolonged TV viewing with increased risk of heart disease, which, for men, is also associated with higher rates of impotence.

4. It could damage your relationships
The more you believe in popular portrayals of romance on television, the less committed you may be to your real relationship, according to research published several years ago in the journal Mass Communication and Society. That ranges from unrealistic expectations of a spouse to seeing the “costs” of real relationships – such as the loss of time or freedom – as being higher, which could undermine what’s happening between the two of you in real life.

5. It could stunt a child's first words
At an early age, Americans start tuning in to TV – and now other media, as kids play with smartphones. But while a FaceTime session with a family member might be OK, for the littlest among us, television can be bad news. “Television exposure before age 2 is strongly correlated with decreased language development,” says David L. Hill, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media. “We continue to advise parents not to have the television on or use television [and] movies routinely to entertain children under age 2.”

6. It could increase aggression 
Children internalize cues, experts say, from what they see on TV to video games. “The relationship between violent media use and aggression and desensitization to violence is as strong as or stronger than the relationship between smoking and lung cancer,” says Hill, author of “Dad to Dad: Parenting Like A Pro.” Not all children are affected in the same way, he adds, but exposure to violence in media makes kids more likely to accept it in their daily lives. Research shows that early exposure to TV violence also makes it likelier that kids will grow up to be aggressive adults.

7. It's isolating 
The results of research presented earlier this year at the annual Conference of the International Communication Association in San Juan, Puerto Rico, found that feelings of loneliness and depression were linked to watching television. While the research didn’t conclude that TV watching caused the issues, researcher Yoon Hi Sung said in a statement that binge-watching shouldn’t be viewed as a harmless addiction; other experts say increased use of electronics can further isolate individuals or promote antisocial behavior.

8. It can rob us of sleep
Glued to the TV? Screen time from the TV to tablet – to the TV shows we watch on the tablet – can make it harder to unwind, cutting into precious sleep, as technology continues its creep into every aspect of our waking lives. One simple tip from the pros for adults and kids: Move the TV out of the bedroom – and don’t watch it there on mobile devices, either.

9. It could shorten our lives
A study of healthy young adults found that watching lots of TV is associated with premature death. The research, published last year in the Journal of the American Heart Association, found that participants who reported watching three hours or more of TV per day had twice the risk of dying during the 8-year follow-up period than those who said they didn’t watch more than 1 hour per day. So, to add insult to injury: If you watch too much TV, you may die sooner than later.

9 Ways Watching TV Can Shorten or Ruin Your Life was originally published on U.S. News & World Report.

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