The Awful Truth About Television: “Heavy” TV watching is a risk factor for obesity

This large amount of time spent motionlessly staring at a screen can be hazardous to your health. Numerous studies show a relationship between TV watching and obesity. The most striking were several studies published in The American Journal of Public Health. These studies found that people who watched three or more hours of television per day were almost twice as likely to be obese compared to people who watched less than one hour per day. Men, women, and children all had similar results. The waistlines of men, women, and children are all victims of their TV-watching habit. How does TV (and other screen watching), make us heavier?

It is common sense that the amount of time we spend in sedentary activity is inversely related to our level of energy expenditure, and thus a risk factor for gaining weight. While watching TV our energy output is not much higher than sleep! Almost any other activity burns more calories than watching TV. Talking on the phone, reading a book, doing the dishes—all are a step up from screen time. With the national average of four and a half hours per day, we are clearly in a dangerous situation.

Commercials sabotage diets

Television is also a risk factor for eating poorly. We are well aware that most commercials promote high calorie, junk food, such as burgers, pizza, soda and candy bars…. alternating with pharmaceutical ads promoting medications designed to treat the effects of an unhealthy lifestyle! There are approximately 32 commercials on every hour-long TV show. We may think we are immune to the persuasion of commercials, but clearly those big corporations are spending the billions of dollars on ads because they work. At least some of us are responding by eating the foods being promoted in TV commercials. It takes a fair amount of will power to stick to a healthy diet in the face of onslaught of these sinister, very persuasive commercials.

Where did that bag of chips go?

Some of our patients tell us that they have the habit of relaxing in front of the TV in the evening and on weekends, often snacking on the wrong foods as they do so. They are aware that this is a bad habit and probably a major contributor to their weight problem. But the habit can be strong! They may be seeking the kind of mindless relaxation that TV provides, and it is unfortunately the case that this mindlessness may be transferred to their eating behaviour, so that they end up eating large amounts of food, simultaneously absorbing both the images on the TV and the food in the bowl/bag within easy reach. “Where did that bag of potato chips go?” the person may say, hardly remembering having eaten it.

The conclusion to this is quite obvious. We have two options and it is for us to decide:

Option 1:  Turn off the TV, or at least restrict the amount of time spent watching. One of our patients followed the rule of “no TV before 10 p.m.” which meant that she was not watching and snacking, but just watching a little before getting ready for bed.  Limiting screen time may be a helpful step to a healthier, happier lifestyle. In any case, if we watch less TV, what are we really missing? As the famous line goes, “64 channels and nothing on.” Turn off your TV and go outside. Turn off your TV and do something fun with your friends or family. Turn off your TV and get some sleep!

Option 2:  You enjoy your TV time and you want to keep watching. Then, continue doing it but instead of sitting on a couch, sit on your stationary bike or walk or run on your treadmill while watching your TV. This way, you will make your TV time productive and helpful to your weight loss process. The exercise is a good way to relax and de-stress, and that will also help you reduce your tendency to eat as a coping strategy.

A lot of people use the excuse that they lead a hectic life and do not have time to exercise. However, they forget the number of hours spent in front of their TV, phone, tablet, and computer… Weight management is partly “time management,” so making better use of our time helps us to lose weight and lead a healthier and happier life.

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