Excessive TV viewing may be linked to increased type 2 diabetes risk

Watching TV is the most commonly reported activity in the U.S. after working and sleeping, but a new study suggests that overindulging in television viewing may be associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular complications.

The University of Southern Denmark and Harvard School of Public Health researchers who conducted the study said that their findings are important because sedentary lifestyles are becoming more common throughout the Western world. This lack of physical activity is often associated with long hours spent in front of the TV. The association they uncovered between television viewing and type 2 diabetes may help explain the rising rates of the metabolic condition.

For the study, the researchers analyzed data collected by eight previous investigations that looked into the possible connection between TV viewing and health problems. They identified four studies that looked at the link to type 2 diabetes involving a total of nearly 176,000 participants, and four studies into heart disease risk factors involving more than 34,000 individuals.

The results, which were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, revealed a strong connection between watching excessive television and cardio-metabolic risk. Those who watched TV for two hours per day or more were 20 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, 15 percent more likely to develop heart disease and 13 percent more likely to die from any cause.

The researchers said that there is nothing inherent to watching television that causes poorer health. Rather, excessive time in front of the TV encourages unhealthy lifestyle habits, like avoiding physical activity, eating junk food and smoking, all factors that increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

"Beyond altering energy expenditure by displacing time spent on physical activities, TV viewing is associated with unhealthy eating in both children and adults," the researchers wrote in their report. "Physical inactivity, various dietary factors and smoking are well-established independent risk factors of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality.”

The findings underscore the importance of adopting healthy lifestyle habits for those who are at risk for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular health complications.