Watch more TV

It’s harmless.  Or, at least it won’t kill you. Via the Austin Carroll:

Results: During a median follow-up of 5.8 years, 542 participants died. At baseline, 12.7% of participants reported watching television or using a computer less than one hour per day, 16.4% did so for 1 hour, 27.8% for 2 hours, 18.7% for 3 hours, 10.9% for 4 hours, and 13.5% for 5 or more hours. After extensive adjustment, the hazard ratio for all-cause mortality for the top category of exposure was 1.30 (95% confidence interval: 0.82, 2.05). No significant trend across categories of exposure was noted. The amount of screen time was also not significantly related to mortality from diseases of the circulatory system.

I will grant you I’m not unbiased here. I love TV, I love computers, and I love video games. On the whole, I think consuming amounts of technology that would stagger mere mortals has not hurt me too much; I think I’ve turned out OK. But I agree that there should be limits. Although I’m more permissive with my kids than many of my friends are with theirs, my children are not allowed to spend too much time playing video games and watching TV. They’re turning out pretty well, too.

I will also grant you that my wife and I spend an enormous amount of time with our children, and they have a number of advantages that other children might not. But that’s the point. It’s hard to determine which of these things is causal. It may be that there are other factors that are correlated with lots of TV time that may make kids or people worse off. Perhaps parents who let their kids watch enormous amounts of TV are more likely to be bad parents. Perhaps parents who let their kids watch enormous amounts of TV are working three jobs, struggling to make ends meet, and can’t play with their kids as much as they would like. Perhaps parents who let their kids watch enormous amounts of TV are depressed or sick. There are any number of scenarios where kids who have it harder are more likely to watch TV, without it being the TV that’s hurting them.

Many of the studies account for that as best they can. But the media likes to run around extrapolating a small statistically significant correlation into headlines like “TV WILL KILL YOU!” The sensationalism is pretty staggering. This leads to a publication bias, where results that are likely to shock and garner headlines are more likely to get accepted and printed.

Love both the points about the nature of parenting and the media’s bias towards more negative, i.e., “TV will kill you!” news.  I certainly spend lots of time in front of screens, but according to my doctors (and myself), I’m pretty damn healthy.  Of course, I’m also fortunate to have a job that allows me time to exercise, and honestly, I’m part of a socio-economic stratum that strongly values, and thus reinforces, exercise and good physical health.  I just wish my kids wanted to read a little more and watch TV a little less.  But they’re doing okay.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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