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Prolonged Television Watching Is Associated with an Increased Risk of Type 2 Diabetes   (June 19, 2011)

It was probably inevitable. The epidemic of type 2 diabetes (T2D) would sooner or later be linked to television watching.

In a meta-analysis of eight earlier studies which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association this past week, the authors concluded that prolonged TV viewing is associated with an increased risk of T2D, as well as increased risk of cardiovascular disease and death. The studies that were reviewed followed more than 200,000 people for an average of 7 to 10 years. The authors found that for every 2 hours of daily television that people watched, the risk of developing T2D increased by 20 percent, and the risk of heart disease rose by 15 percent. Each 2 hours of television per day increased the risk of dying by 13 percent.

The obvious question is why television watching is associated with developing diabetes (and heart disease and dying). Apparently the earlier studies had deliberately excluded people known to have chronic diseases, but some folks with undiagnosed early diabetes inevitably were included.

Lack of physical activity would seem to play a large part. The authors speculated in an interview with Reuters that "people who watch a lot of TV are more likely to eat junk foods." But as far as I can tell, no one systematically checked to see if the TV watchers were eating beer and pretzels or perhaps healthful salads and whole-grain breads. The authors go on to suggest that  "Cutting back on TV watching is an important way to reduce sedentary behaviors and decrease risk of diabetes and heart disease." 

I'd like to propose an alternate option or two for those of you who insist that you must watch a lot of television: Watch TV while jogging on a treadmill or riding an exercise bike. And stick to healthful low-calorie snack foods.

Of course, I'd speculate that most of you who are reading this blog are more interested in surfing the web than watching reruns of Gunsmoke and I Love Lucy. At least the authors didn't blame internet surfing for the development of diabetes. I wonder if that will be next?

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Dr. Bill Quick began writing at HealthCentral's diabetes website in November, 2006. These essays are reproduced at D-is-for-Diabetes with the permission of HealthCentral.

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