Binge-watching TV threatens heart health

A study on the effect of different sedentary behaviors on CV health has pinned binge-watching television as a more harmful activity than sitting at a desk job, though the negative effects of both can potentially be reversed with exercise.

Lead study author Jeanette Garcia, PhD, a professor of kinesiology and physical therapy at the University of Central Florida, and her colleagues reviewed data on 3,592 adults enrolled in the Jackson Heart Study, an ongoing, Mississippi-based effort to study the outcomes of CVD in black patients. The team collected self-reported television watching habits, hours spent sitting at a desk and exercise information from participants, 205 of whom died during a follow-up period of more than eight years.

During follow-up, Garcia et al.’s study group experienced a total of 129 heart disease events, including MI. Patients who said they spent more time sitting at work were more likely to be female, eat healthier, exercise more and smoke and drink alcohol less, while those who reported binge-watching TV also reported lower incomes, lower education status, less physical activity and higher BMI and blood pressure levels.

Around one-third of participants said they watched less than two hours of TV daily, Garcia and co-authors reported in the Journal of the American Heart Association, where their findings were published July 2. Another 36% reported watching between two and four hours, and 31% said they watched more than four hours of TV each day.

Analyses revealed that the group who watched more than four hours of television per day also faced a 50% greater risk of heart disease and premature death compared to their counterparts who watched less than two hours of TV per day. Exercise in some cases offset the negative effects of binge-watching—the link between TV and CVD wasn’t apparent in black patients who exercised for at least 150 minutes per week.

In a release from the AHA, Garcia said the CV risks associated with binge-watching television likely also have something to do with people’s habits when they watch TV.

“TV watching occurs at the end of the day where individuals may consume their biggest meal, and people may be completely sedentary with hours of uninterrupted sitting until they go to bed,” she said. “Eating a large meal and then sitting for hours at a time could be a very harmful combination.”

She said snacking is also common with TV watching, and people typically aren’t snacking on fruits and vegetables while fixed on their favorite shows. On the other hand, at work, employees at desk jobs regularly leave their posts to go to meetings, make photocopies and speak with colleagues, rendering them more active.

Garcia said her team’s findings can probably be extrapolated to other racial or ethnic groups, since binge-watching is likely harmful in those populations, too. She said that moving forward, physicians might want to ask their patients about their TV watching habits and suggest ways to offset the health risks of too much sedentary time.