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BJSM response to news flash: TV may not kill you, but active people do live longer

19 Aug, 11 | by Karim Khan

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Recent press coverage of BJSM article: Television viewing time and reduced life expectancy: a life table analysis, has sparked debate in popular media. David Aaronovich, from the UK Times, writes: “On Tuesday morning many people in Britain woke up to the news that their televisions were killing them… A curious person would want to know how this transmission of death works…Is it some kind of death ray, emitted by the billions of nasty little pixels on the screen?”

His main issue wasn’t with the credibility of research findings but rather the news coverage’s muddled distinction between causal and associated behaviour risks.

The sensationalist response to Veerman, Healy, and Cobiac et al’s article is not confined to the UK. News headlines from around the globe include:

TV can kill, just like smoking

It’s the threat in the corner of every living room

TV And Lifespan: One Hour’s Viewing Shortens Life By 22 Minutes

New Study Says “Jersey Shore” Can Shorten Life Span (Not Really)

Reporting accuracy aside, as they say in the business – any press is good press. The news coverage successfully calls attention to the risks associated with coming home from your desk job (remember a few weeks ago – we were told that desk jobs are a serious health risk), and sitting for hours in front of the TV.

Since researchers excluded those individuals that exercised in front of the TV, the underlying issue here is the negative health impacts of sedentary behaviour. This is nothing new for our fellow physical activity advocates (see related BJSM warm up on smokadiabesity).

The blast of news coverage also suggests that creative research angles on behavioral health impacts are useful in grabbing the public imagination. It may be considered a less dramatic version of when activists take off their clothes to promote reduction of fossil fuel dependency or anti-fur campaigns (see World Naked Bike Ride and I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur).

As commendable as this level of commitment to promoting behavior change is, one of our aims at BJSM is to keep our clothes on and let the science speak for itself.

Post script: One news headline DID hit on the crux of the issue:

Want to live longer? Try less TV and more exercise

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