A report published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine on research carried out in Australia claims that every hour of TV watched after the age of 25 may shorten your lifespan by 22 minutes.
So, if you believe the assertion, anyone who spends a lifetime average of watching three hours a day can expect to lose around three years.
According to one of the report’s authors, Dr Lennert Veerman, from the School of Population Health at the University of Queensland, it puts long hours spent in front of the television “in the same ballpark as smoking and obesity”.
“While smoking rates are declining, watching TV is not, which has implications at a population level,” he said.
But is television really that bad for us?
Looking a bit deeper into the story there are a couple of things that might help to explain the headlines.
Firstly, it is the lack of exercise that would appear to be the problem here, not watching television per se. Several hours a day sitting reading or working on a computer would presumably produce the same results. And television time can be balanced out with exercise – I suppose you could even do both at the same time.
There could be other factors too. Anyone watching excessive amounts of tv may well snack on unhealthy foods as they do so, and would also be less likely to cook healthy meals. So diet could play a part in the overall picture.
The second issue is confusion between cause and effect and correlation; something that seems to be creeping into many newspaper reports of late.
People whose mobility is affected by illness or disability, or those who choose sedentary lifestyles, may well watch more television than average. And their life expectancy may be shorter than average in the first place. So there is a connection between watching a lot of TV and lower life expectancy – but that is very different from proving that one causes the other.
An example: it is easy to observe that drivers use their windscreen wipers when it rains. The more cars you will see with the wipers on, the heavier the rain. So does this prove that using windscreen wipers causes rain? I think not.
Watching excessive television can’t be said to be good for you. But it certainly doesn’t kill you either.