What are the Health Effects of Watching Television?

Introduction
Physical health effects
Mental health effects
Health effects on children
References
Further reading


It has become more unusual to find a house in the developed world without a TV set than with one. As well as becoming a staple household appliance, the emergence of smartphones and tablets has made accessing video and film content even easier. Exacerbated by the global pandemic, the phenomenon of binge-watching has become widespread due to the readily available content on streaming services.

In September 2020, a record number of 13 million UK households held at least one streaming on-demand subscription, and 6.7 million had two or more subscriptions. This generates £1.5 billion in revenue from the UK and £40.1 billion worldwide. With video fast becoming the medium of information-sharing, advertisement, and entertainment, the industry has burgeoned without preventative caution for the potential negative effects of excessive viewing.

Image Credit: Proxima Studio/ShutterstockImage Credit: Proxima Studio/Shutterstock

Physical health effects

Television and broadcasting entertainment have proved so effective that ‘binge-watching’ is now a widely practiced hobby. Viewers can physically relax while living vicariously through the adventures of others, resulting in prolonged periods of sedentary activity. Reduced movement during screen time and the high probability of meals or snacks consumed during viewing contribute to expanding waistlines. Moreover, live television is regularly punctuated with advertisements.

A study from the appetite and obesity research group at the University of Liverpool has concluded that children see approximately 12 HFSS (High in Fat, Sugar, and Salt) advertisements an hour when watching family-friendly content. Shows sporting sponsored products further exacerbate the lure of unhealthy food. Alongside the burgeoning obesity and high BMI numbers across the UK and US, the increased intake of sugary foods unmitigated by exercise spikes a rise in type 2 diabetes.

Sedentary activity is also positively associated with higher levels of infertility - more than 20 hours of TV-watching a week results in under 44% of normal sperm levels. In men, testicular health requires good circulation, which is sustained by exercise. Fat tissue has been linked to higher levels of oxidative stress and inflammation in sperm cells; the presence of these stress markers decreases with regular exercise and correlates with seminal DNA integrity.

In women, sedentary behavior and extremes of high or reduced fat tissue contribute to infertility. Regular exercise stimulates hormone secretion, which contributes to egg production. In addition, the improved circulation and metabolic benefits from exercise promote healthy egg growth.

Related: Screen Time and Insomnia

Mental health effects

Television is an incredible innovation that combines audio and visual signals to provide an immersive entertainment experience. Screen time has been speculated to develop emotional intelligence in viewers by allowing them to simulate situations from different perspectives. However, this has also been speculated to provide unrealistic expectations and demonstrate the supposed ‘costs’ of relationships.

TV has links to anxiety and depression as individuals can fall into a perpetual cycle of physical loneliness and increased dependence on electronic entertainment, contributing to further self-isolation. Another contributor to anxiety and depression is insomnia related to screen time. The screens of electronic devices emit blue light, which simulates daylight.

As TV is mostly watched in the evenings, this blue light affects melatonin levels and the sensitivity of the body clock to time. This results in insomnia which disrupts the body’s ability to replenish from a restful sleep. Exciting and violent scenarios in shows also stimulate the adrenaline system and keep viewers awake, further exacerbating insomnia.

Image Credit: Andrey_Popov/ShutterstockImage Credit: Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock

Health effects on children

Children are not immune from TV-related health effects. Whilst the most crucial brain development occurs in the early years, the brain is not fully formed until 25, with another rapid expansion period taking place around age 16-17. As watching television is an easily accessible and engrossing activity, it is tempting to entertain children with on-demand programs. However, this convenience comes at a cost – even 2 hours of TV a day have been shown to delay speech progression by 6-fold in children under the age of 2. Older children have been noted to internalize aggression and violence, which may have adversely damage their developing character.

References

  • Johnson JG, Cohen P, Kasen S, First MB, Brook JS. Association Between Television Viewing and Sleep Problems During Adolescence and Early Adulthood. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2004;158(6):562–568. doi:10.1001/archpedi.158.6.562
  • Boyle, M., 2021. TV streaming statistics | Finder UK. [online] Finder UK. Available at: <https://www.finder.com/uk/tv-streaming-statistics>
  • Foucaut, A., Faure, C., Julia, C., Czernichow, S., Levy, R. and Dupont, C., 2019. Sedentary behavior, physical inactivity and body composition in relation to idiopathic infertility among men and women. PLOS ONE, 14(4), p.e0210770.
  • Grish, K., 2021. How Changing Your Exercise Routine Could Boost Fertility. [online] Shape. Available at: <https://www.shape.com/lifestyle/mind-and-body/boost-fertility-with-exercise>
  • Hajizadeh Maleki, B., Tartibian, B. and Chehrazi, M., 2017. The effects of three different exercise modalities on markers of male reproduction in healthy subjects: a randomized controlled trial. Reproduction, 153(2), pp.157-174.
  • Madehow.com. 2021. How television is made - manufacture, history, used, parts, components, industry, History, Raw Materials, Design. [online] Available at: <http://www.madehow.com/Volume-3/Television.html>
  • Obesity Prevention Source. 2021. Television Watching and “Sit Time”. [online] Available at: <https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-causes/television-and-sedentary-behavior-and-obesity/>
  • Pacheco, D., 2021. How Screen Time May Cause Insomnia in Teens | Sleep Foundation. [online] Sleepfoundation.org. Available at: <https://www.sleepfoundation.org/teens-and-sleep/screen-time-and-insomnia-for-teens>
  • Park, A., 2021. Exercise May Be the Key to Better Sperm. [online] Time. Available at: <https://time.com/4591307/exercise-sperm-count/>
  • Schroeder, M., 2021. 9 Ways Watching TV Is Bad For Your Health. [online] HuffPost. Available at: <https://www.huffpost.com/entry/health-risk-of-watching-tv_n_56200c55e4b06462a13b5eb4>
  • Stoy, J., Hjollund, N., Mortensen, J., Burr, H. and Bonde, J., 2004. Semen quality and sedentary work position. International Journal of Andrology, 27(1), pp.5-11.

Further Reading

Last Updated: Dec 30, 2022

Zainab Mustafa

Written by

Zainab Mustafa

Zainab obtained her BSc (Hons) in Medical Genetics from the University of Leicester in 2019 having completed a research project in genetic analyses of novel L1 insertions. This project focused on examining the legitimacy of novel LINE-1 sequences that had been discovered in platinum genomes using bioinformatic tools. Utilising genotyping assays, the novel insertion under scrutiny was verified, sequenced and compared to existing L1s to determine distinction and a possible lineage. Further genetic analyses were performed using ceph plate populations to begin establishing the prevalence of this transposable element amongst the individuals in these known populations.

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