Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Your TV is Trying to Kill You

The latest news from the overstuffed Duh File is that watching television is bad for you.

To be clear from the start: while I’m not the biggest fan of TV in general, and of reality TV in particular, I’m not the kind of guy to drive around with one of those “Kill Your Television” bumper stickers on my car.1 Quite frankly, it’s none of my business what you do with your free time, or your work time, or the time you should be using to mold your kids into responsible, intelligent, thoughtful and decent adults instead of violent little self-centered psychopaths or mindless consumers. It’s not my business to tell you what to do with your lives.

So here’s what you need to do: sit down with a pen and paper, a calculator, or an abacus—whichever you prefer—and figure out how many hours per week (or per night, if you like), on average, you spend in front of the television. For me, when there’s a Denver Broncos game to suffer through every Sunday, I’m probably at around 8.5 hours per week. When the Broncos’ off-season begins—typically at the instant that somebody else’s team clinches the last remaining playoff spot—it’s probably five or six hours a week.2

That’s not too bad, I suppose, although it still seems like too much time to me. To put it in perspective, however, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that as of 2008, the average person spends more than 2.75 hours per day watching TV. For those of you without an abacus, that’s more than nineteen hours per week, or almost forty-two full days per year.3

For a bit of painful perspective, the same Bureau of Labor Statistics table that gives us the above info states that we spend, on average, barely forty-five minutes per day on socializing and communicating; less than half an hour caring for and helping household children; less than twenty minutes participating in sports, exercise, and recreation; and about nine minutes each on religious/spiritual activities and volunteering.4 It’s probably just a coincidence that there are about nine minutes’ worth of commercials in a half-hour of television . . . but it’s an interesting coincidence.

Every minute that passes is a minute you’re never going to get back. While it’s probably impossible to live every minute as if it were going to be your last—and likely unhealthy even to try—I think it’s worth considering that you may be frittering away all too many of your remaining minutes on, for example, a rerun of Friends that you’ve seen eight times before, and maybe didn’t really laugh at all that much in the first place.5 And if you’re willing to try to convince me that an hour spent watching a “reality” talent show can actually make your life even fractionally better in any significant way, please let me know where you live, so I can run to your house and slap you silly.6

And as it turns out, the more television you watch, the fewer minutes you may have left to fritter away in the first place. According to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, a study recently published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association7 suggests that
each hour spent watching TV [per week]8 was linked with an 18 percent greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, an 11 percent greater risk of all causes of death[,] and a 9 percent increased risk of death from cancer.

The article goes on to explain that the link between TV watching and bad heart health was found “not just among the overweight and obese but also among people who had a healthy weight and exercised.” This part came as a bit of a surprise to me, but not as big as a surprise as the suggestion that folks who watch too much television get cancer more often.


Honestly, how the hell does that happen?

So along with the avalanche of proof suggesting that television makes you stupid(er), there’s growing evidence that it’s willing to kill you to get what it wants. Whatever you do, don’t look directly at your television without professional oversight. Don’t lend TV money, don’t pick up the phone when it calls, and by all means, do not feed TV after midnight! Whatever mindless amusement it might give you is just not worth the risk to your head, your heart, or your family.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, one of my favorite House episodes is on. It's the one where he makes fun of the other doctors for being stupid, and cracks jokes about Cuddy's butt. Gotta go.

1. I’d probably approve of a bumper sticker that read “Slap Your TV around a Bit,” though. That seems appropriate.
2. This number would be somewhat higher if not for TiVo and Netflix, which both allow me to skip through commercials for dumb crap I wouldn’t buy anyway, which means I can get away with watching an hour-long show in about 43 minutes.
3. Numbers from the Nielsen Company—one of the most well-known organizations tracking just how often we’re willingly trashing our brains—suggest that the number is closer to 151 hours per month. Five hours a day, on average. So for every uptight elitist snob such as myself, watching a buttholishly self-important one hour per night, somebody out there may well have the TV on for nine hours a day.
4. Reading apparently wasn’t a popular enough activity to even register as its own category; maybe it’s included in our daily twelve minutes of “Other activities,” which presumably includes comparable wastes of time such as nose-picking, clipping toenails, and blogging.
5. You know the episode I’m talking about, it’s the one where Ross whines about something, Joey sounds mildly brain-damaged, and Phoebe acts like she’s from another planet.
6. The possible exception here being whichever episode first featured that sort of shlumpy-looking Scottish lady, Susan Whatever. She can really sing, and it was refreshing to see a bunch of people who were judging her by her appearance (probably using words like “shlumpy”) realize they were being total jerks.
7. Circulation almost qualifies as a clever title for a journal, especially a journal about the circulatory system. But not quite.
8. This quote from the Times article almost certainly contains a typo: the author presumably means “each hour spent watching TV per week,” because if not, and we really are talking about an 18% risk increase for every hour of TV watched over a lifetime, then even a moderate watcher like myself, having spent maybe 16,000 hours in front of the TV, has (assuming I’m working my abacus correctly) something like three thousand times the risk for cardiovascular disease as someone who doesn’t watch TV. That means I’d almost certainly be dead already, and my sources tell me I’m not.


  1. I have read/heard similar statics on the subject and wonder if they have taken into account all the time the TV is just on for background noise whilst people do their daily chores or prepare their microwave dinners. Does the time article mention anything about people that don't watch TV but spend an equal amount of time writing and or reading blogs? What about people read instead of watching TV? Are the conclusions based on the amount of sedentary time one spends or is it the content of TV? Would you have the same risk watching FOXNEWS as watching PBS? Come on man! Where are your facts!! ;) Even though you have less brain activity watching TV then you do sleeping, I'm sure that is not the case while reading this blog.

  2. It's been scientifically proven that folks who write blogs are fantastically intelligent, and that folks who read Bowling in the Dark are far smarter than the average American. Whether the blog makes them smarter or their innate intelligence is what leads them to the blog has yet to be determined.