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Binge TV watchers at much higher risk for death, study says

You might want to think twice before reaching for the remote. A study points the finger of death at too much television, tying excessive watching habits to a higher mortality rate.

Kids in front of TV
Go outside and play, kids.Gottscho-Schleisner/Library of Congress

You might want to think twice about sitting down and watching an entire season of "Game of Thrones" in one afternoon, especially if you make a habit of the couch-potato lifestyle. A study conducted in Spain has reached the conclusion that people who watch over three hours of television each day have a twofold higher risk of mortality compared with people who watch less than an hour each day. The study was published this week in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

A research team from the University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain, followed 13,284 Spanish university graduates with a mean age of 37 years over a median follow-up time of 8.2 years. The researchers looked at how much time each person spent watching television and adjusted results for age, sex, smoking status, total energy intake, Mediterranean diet adherence, body mass index, and physical activity.

"Television viewing was directly associated with all-cause mortality. However, computer use and time spent driving were not significantly associated with higher mortality," the study reports. The information was gathered through self-administered questionnaires sent every two years by mail.

Over the course of the research, 97 participants died, which is actually less than the expected rate of 128 for the general population of a similar age, sex, and income. The cause of death broke out into 19 deaths due to cardiovascular disease, 46 due to cancer, and 32 that could not be attributed to either of those more common causes.

The researchers are puzzling out how television in particular might impact mortality by entertaining the possibility that the connection could be due to the low-energy expenditure required to view TV, versus driving or even working on a computer.

We've been hearing about the dangers of too much sitting for quite some time. "Our findings suggest that not only the promotion of physical activity but also the reduction in sedentary activities (especially television viewing) is a priority for the prevention of premature mortality," the study reads.

While the study has generated some interesting data, the researchers feel there needs to be some follow-up studies. "Further cohort studies and trials designed to assess whether reductions in television viewing are able to reduce mortality are warranted," the paper concludes. "The lack of association between computer use or time spent driving and mortality needs further confirmation."