Type 2s: Turn Off Your TV!

Television has been getting a bad rap lately for contributing to the decline of cognitive development in children, the decline in moral standards and pretty much the decline of Western civilization as a whole. Now it’s getting a bad rap for contributing to the development of type 2 diabetes.

Research from the 10-year Health Professionals Follow-up Study was presented at the American Diabetes Association’s scientific sessions in San Diego. Frank B. Hu, a researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health, suggested that television watching is a major impediment for people who are trying to prevent or treat type 2 diabetes. Hu presented data on 37,918 men, 1,058 of whom developed type 2 diabetes. According to the study, men who spent 21 to 40 hours a week watching television were more than twice as likely to develop diabetes compared to men who watched little or no television.

“A substantial number watched 21 to 40 hours per week,” says Hu, who adds that the risk for developing diabetes is three times higher in men who watched more than 40 hours per week. “The risk goes roughly in tandem with the amount of TV watched.”

Previous studies have found that the risk of obesity, a major risk factor for diabetes, rises with more hours in front of the television.

This study did not look at why TV watching raises the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Dr. William Dietz, director of the Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says that television watching increases the risk of developing diabetes because sitting eliminates even the most normal activity. Dietz mentions, however, that simply turning off the television set will not reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

“If you replace TV watching with reading, there may not be a health benefit,” says Dietz.

Hu suggests that compensating television watching with comfortable levels of exercise can reduce the risk of diabetes. The Health Professionals Study looked at several forms of activity, including walking and running, and converted them statistically into levels of energy expenditure. Most notably, those who used the most energy by running every day reduced their diabetes risk by about 50 percent compared to those who watched 21 to 40 hours of TV per week. Even those who did about 20 minutes of walking on most days reduced their risk of developing diabetes by about 20 percent, compared to those who watched 21 to 40 hours of TV per week. Those who did the 30 minutes of moderate activity on most days, as current federal guidelines for good health recommend, had a risk reduction of more than 30 percent.

Jody Wilkinson, a research physician at the Cooper Institute of Aerobics Research in Dallas, says that the findings of the study fit a research trend that shows the risk of developing diabetes goes down as the levels of exercise goes up.

“The majority of us aren’t even getting the minimal levels [of exercise],” says Wilkinson.

Hu agrees, saying that even light exercise is more beneficial in preventing diabetes than no exercise at all.

“The more you exercise, the lower your risk.”

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