TV time should be limited to two hours a day

Limiting TV time to no more than two hours per day could minimise adults’ exposure to health risks including cancer and heart disease, a report has found.

Watching TV for less than two hours a day could prevent deaths from heart disease and cancer.

The study from a team of researchers from Glasgow University, found that almost eight per cent of cardiovascular disease deaths - and six per cent of all deaths - could be prevented or delayed.

The researchers examined lifestyle and demographic data from 490,966 UK Biobank participants aged 37-73 years who were recruited between 2006 and 2010.

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Participants were followed up until 2016 to 2018 and their data was linked to national routine death and disease registries.

Dr Hamish Foster from the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Health and Wellbeing, who led the study, said: “This study adds more weight to the evidence that more time spent watching TV is likely to be detrimental to health. Our study suggests limiting TV time could delay or prevent a lot of adverse health.“However, there is still more work to be done before we can make firm TV time recommendations.”

He added: “TV time is just one of a number of potentially sedentary behaviours, which also includes screen time watching videos on your phone, which may all contribute to adverse health outcomes.

“Also, there are many other contributory factors, such as unhealthy snacking and lower socioeconomic status, that are also strongly associated with both TV time and poor health outcomes. Further research is needed to understand all these factors and inform future advice and guidelines.”

To reduce the chance of the results being due to reverse causality – when poor health leads to increased TV time – participants with non-communicable disease, cardiovascular disease and cancer were excluded. Further exclusions included all those who had an “adverse health event” within two years of recruitment.

The researchers also looked at the potential benefits of substituting TV time with healthier activities such as walking. They found people who would benefit most from replacing longer periods of TV time with more time exercising are those who only spend very small amounts of their day doing those healthier activities.

The study, Understanding How Much TV is Too Much: A Non-linear Analysis of the Association Between Television Viewing Time and Adverse Health Outcomes, is published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.