5 ways TV is harmful to your health

Long hours in front of the tube might increase your risk of an early death. How, exactly, can your TV kill you?

Watching TV can be curb early childhood development and, as adults, those hours in front of the boob-tube can increase a person's risk of heart disease.
(Image credit: Stefanie Grewel/Corbis)

Americans log an average of five hours in front of their TV sets each day, and researchers say that's enough to send them to an early grave. A new study finds that for every two hours of television per day, a viewer's risk of an early death rises by 13 percent. The chances of diabetes jumps by 20 percent, and the risk of heart disease increases by 15 percent. Here's a look at five other ways you're taking your life in your hands when you turn on the TV:

1. It causes sleeplessness

Watching TV before dozing off is "far and away" the most common pre-sleep activity, according to a 2009 study reported in The Telegraph. The researchers said the practice is one of the major causes of sleep deprivation, a condition that plagues one in three people and is linked to increased risk of obesity, heart disease, and depression.

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2. We become too attached

During the 2007 TV writers' strike, when scripted series went off-air for several months, some college students reported feeling "real distress" over the loss of new episodes of The Office and Grey's Anatomy, says a study published in Mass Communication and Society. The "anguish" is comparable to the trauma of a romantic breakup, says Margaret Hartmann at Jezebel, as many people watch TV for companionship. And bad breakups can lead to depression.

3. Actually, even one hour of TV is bad for you

A study released last year concluded that watching TV creates an 11 percent greater risk of all causes of death, and, for extra measure, a 9 percent greater risk of death from cancer, according to report in the American Heart Association's Monday in Circulation journal. The kicker, however, is that all of those dangers increase after each hour spent in front of the TV, not every two as in the study released this week.

4. It slows early childhood development

While educational programs can make older preschoolers smarter, "that screen might just be doing the opposite" for kids under age 2, according to one researcher. The first two years of a child's life are a "critical" time in brain development, and TV time takes away from play, exploring, and other activities essential to normal growth. Too much TV in infancy is linked to slow language, cognitive, and attention development. Once a child reaches age 2, however, Sesame Street is not only allowed but encouraged.

5. Plus, actors are too skinny

From Ally McBeal to America's Next Top Model, television has traditionally spotlighted a female body type that is unattainable for most women. But research shows that may not just be bad for a woman's self-esteem — it could be bad for her health. Constant exposure to thin women, such as on TV, "permanently alters brain function," according to a study conducted by Brigham Young University, and increases the likeliness that a viewer will develop eating disorders.

Sources: Reuters, Telegraph, Mass Communication and Society, Jezebel, Monday in Circulation, Cleveland, Brigham Young University

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