Is binge watching bad for your health? Your next episode could be your last

By RUSSELL GARVEY Staff Writer

Can’t get enough of Game of Thrones? TV Binge-watching is a new craze to the point of becoming the norm for television viewing. Two new studies, one performed by Harvard University and the other by the University of Texas find that binge-watching your favorite TV show can be damaging to you physically and mentally.

In a 2013 study conducted by Netflix, a majority of viewers (73 Percent) defined their binge-watching as viewing two to six episodes of the same show at one time. Netflix partnered with cultural anthropologist Grant McCracken to find out why binge-watching has taken control of viewers.

McCracken studied many households across the United States and Canada to find an answer about this new trend in TV viewing.  “I found that binge watching has really taken off due to a perfect storm of better TV, our current economic climate, and the digital explosion of the last few years. But this TV watcher is different, the couch potato has awoken. And now that services like Netflix have given consumers control over their TV viewing, they have declared a new way to watch,” said McCracken.

It is understood that inactivity for long periods of time can lead to several different health problems. A study published in the Journal of American Medical Association, combined the data from eight separate studies and concluded that for every two additional hours spent watching TV increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 20%. The risk of heart disease also raised by 15%. When the data was expanded to an additional three hours of television watching, the risk of these diseases, and the possibility of death increased on average, 13%.

Frank Hu, M.D., professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health and a contributor to the analysis stated, “When put together, the findings are remarkably consistent across different studies and different populations.” This study also found that Americans spend five or more hours a day watching television. This is much more than Europeans and Australians. In their study, Hu and his partner analyzed more than 175,000 people around the world for which the studies were conducted between six to ten years. Also in their findings, for every two hours Americans spend watching TV every day, 176 new cases of diabetes, 38 deaths from heart disease, and 104 deaths due to other inactive TV watching habits per 100,000 people per year.

Researchers at the University of Texas recently performed a study on the mental effects of binge-watching TV, titled “A Bad Habit For Your Health? An Exploration Of Psychological Factors For Binge-Watching Behavior.” Yoon Hi Sung, Eun Yeon Kang and Wei-Na Lee asked 316 people between the ages of 18 -29 how often they binge-watched TV and then several questions of their mental and emotional state, such as how often they feel loneliness, depression and deficiencies in self-regulation. Their findings concluded that people who are depressed and or lonely are more prone to TV binging and are using it to suppress these bad feelings.

Researcher Yoon Hi Sung also agreed with the physical effects binge-watching TV can have, “Even though some people argue that binge-watching is a harmless addiction, findings from our study suggest that binge-watching should no longer be viewed this way. Physical fatigue and problems such as obesity and other health problems are related to binge-watching, and they are a cause for concern.”

Since binge-watching TV has begun, there has been very little study into the effects, short term or long term, of what binge-watching TV has on the viewers. “Our research is a step toward exploring binge-watching as an important media and social phenomenon,” states Yoon Hi Sung.

So when you are preparing for that long awaited run of shows, like Game of Thrones, think about taking extended breaks to do something active, like sports or going out with friends for a healthy meal instead of some of the usual junk food.

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