Pitt Study Finds Obesity, Violence Linked To TV Viewing

Sep 1, 2015

Two analyses of television watching patterns find a link between heavy viewing and both injury and obesity.
Credit Espensorvik/Flickr

Analysis of peoples’ television watching habits and other life factors over the last 15 years has shown those who watch more television are at a greater risk of injury, particularly among people who are considered to have a “high-hostility” personality, according to a study published online by University of Pittsburgh researchers.

Lead author of the study, Anthony Fabio, assistant professor of epidemiology at Pitt Public Health, said this could come down to messaging.

“People who are a bit more hostile, a bit more up-tight, can react very differently to messages so they’re more likely to act without thinking, more likely to act very aggressively, so we think what is going on here is when they see these messages they’re affected by them to a stronger degree than other folks,” Fabio said.

Data comes from from 4,196 adults recruited from Birmingham, Ala., Chicago, Minneapolis and Oakland, Calif., who participated in the coronary artery risk development in young adults study between 1990 and 2005.

For 15 years, participants periodically reported their television viewing habits and completed in-depth questionnaires to assess their personality traits. The researchers also recorded all injuries requiring hospitalization.

“So the more TV people watched, the more likely they were to end up in the hospital for an injury,” Fabio said.

For high-hostility individuals, watching more TV at year five was associated with a 40 percent higher likelihood of injury at year 10. The trend continued -- more TV at year 15 was associated with odds of injury doubling at year 20. This association did not occur in individuals who reported with less hostile personalities.

Another analysis of the same data revealed that people who watched more television in young adulthood (around age 30) had a greater likelihood of being obese. The same association did not hold true for those considered middle-aged. Fabio said this could be due to a number of factors, including biology and metabolism, older people being less influenced by messaging and a tendency for some younger people to snack while watching TV.

With televisions in more than 98 percent of American homes and more and more people consuming media on smart phones and tablets, Fabio said public health researchers are spending an increasing amount of time studying watching habits.

“We’re talking about an exposure that’s just massive, so we’re interested in trying to understand what and how that affects public health,” he said. “We saw that it really did increase the risk of injury. From this other work we’ve done, we’re seeing that it also seems to lead to increases in poor cardiovascular health as well as obesity.”

The ultimate goal, according to Fabio is to inform those who make policies and reduce future risks to public health. The papers are published online in the International Journal of Injury Control and Safety Promotion and in the journal SAGE Open.