Your parents have probably warned you about the effects of watching too much TV has on your mental and physical health.
Were they right? Let’s see. Most of us cannot remember a time before television. While growing up the TV was a constant presence in front of the sofa. But over time TV has moved out of the lounge.
We can watch TV wherever we can take our cellphone or tablet and binge watch the latest must-see drama.
The average American household has 2.86 television sets, with a third of American children having a TV in their room. But did you know that too much TV has a detrimental effect on our health?
1. Television and the brain
Your parents may have told you that too much TV rots your brain. Science is showing that they may have been right!
A 2015 study in JAMA Psychiatry looked at the viewing habits of adults aged over 25, over 25 years. Those who, on average, watched more than three hours of television a day performed worse on cognitive tests than those who spent less time in front of the box.
It is thought that TV does not engage the brain in the same way as, for example, interacting on the internet or playing video games.
In addition to this, physical activity is good for cognitive and mental health, and those who watch too much television spend considerably less time exercising.
For very young children, watching television can be even more detrimental. Time spent in front of the television is strongly correlated to decreased language development in the early years of life. This can have a knock-on effect throughout a child’s school life.
The American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media recommends that the under-twos are not routinely allowed to use television or films as entertainment.
2. Television and the body
Along with cognitive problems, too much TV can cause health problems. Some of these are unsurprising: time spent watching TV rather than exercising makes us fatter (even before taking into account the effect on our diet of all those junk food adverts) and increases our risk of type 2 diabetes.
But some others may surprise you. For example, a 2013 Harvard study showed that men who watch TV for 20 hours a week have a sperm count that is a massive 44% lower than men who do not watch.
It is thought that this is because of lower physical activity levels. Previous studies have linked television watching to heart disease, which can also lead to impotence in men.
Even more worryingly, a Journal of the American Heart Association study showed that healthy adults who watch television three or more hours per day were twice as likely to die within the next eight years than those who spent less than an hour a day on this habit.
An Australian study in 2012 estimates that every hour of watching television reduces your life expectancy by 22 minutes. It seems that watching TV is more sedentary than other similar activities, such as playing video games.
3. TV and wellbeing
Watching too much television can also affect your mood and relationships. Research in the journal Mass Communication and Society suggests that the idealized depictions of romance on TV shows can undermine real relationships.
At the 2015 Conference of the International Communication Association, research was presented which linked loneliness and depression to watching too much TV.
While this research showed a correlation rather than proving that the TV actually caused the issues, study authors warned that the increase of binge-watching television series and the availability of TV shows on portable devices such as mobile phones and tablets for streaming may increase isolation and anti-social behavior.
So are all warnings about the TV we heard as a child true?
Not quite. Watching TV in the dark or sitting too close to it might give you a headache. At the same time, unlike what countless parents told their children, it won’t damage your eyes.
However, given the other detrimental effects of watching too much TV on your body, mind, and wellbeing it’s wise to make use of the off button from time to time, for your health’s sake.