Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Square-eyes and big bones

Watching TV too much makes you fat, according to a report from the Harvard School of Public Health. A group studied fifty thousand women over a six-year period and compared their risk of becoming obese or developing type II diabetes with changes in their eating habits. The study found that watching TV for an extra two hours per day increased the risk of obesity by 25 percent and the risk of diabetes by 14 percent. The research leader, Dr Frank Hu, is quoted as saying, 'Compared with other sedentary behaviours, TV watching is associated with lower resting metabolic rate...Also, people tend to eat junk foods while watching TV, due to constant exposure to food commercials.'

The first statement may well be true, but the second one is slightly bizarre. People may very well eat crap in front of the TV, but that's because they like to eat crap when they relax. It is not because the commercials tell them to.

How useful is this piece of research? On the face of it, fifty thousand women sounds impressive. But how much inaccuracy does there have to be in terms of calorie count, other exercise taken, actual TV watched and in the weighting of other factors, in order to make the percentages mentioned utterly meaningless. The results seem to be common sense, but it would be difficult to draw conclusions from this work safely.

In any event, Dr Hu lives the dream: 'We should not only promote increasing physical activity levels but also target a decrease in sedentary behaviours, especially prolonged TV watching. Personally, I have a treadmill in front of a TV so that I can do some exercise while watching the news.'

Chill out, Doc!

TV watching 'makes you obese', BBC News, 23 April 2003


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