Binge Watching TV Could Kill You

Posted September 4th, 2015 at 7:22 pm (UTC-4)

A new Japanese study finds that binge watching television could kill you.

Binge watching, or viewing a number of movies or a television program’s episodes in one sitting, has become a popular pastime in parts of the world.

This 18 year study, involving more than 86,000 people, revealed that those who sit and watch a lot of television in a day have a higher risk of dying from a pulmonary embolism or PE – a sudden blockage or blood clot in one of the lung’s pulmonary arteries.

According to the Mayo Clinic, in most cases a pulmonary embolism is caused by blood clots that travel to the lungs from mostly the legs but also, rarely, from other parts of the body too.

The new study’s lead author is Toru Shirakawa, a public health research fellow in the Department of Social Medicine at Japan’s Osaka University.  Shirakawa presented the study in an address at the recently held congress of the European Society of Cardiology.

“Pulmonary embolism is a serious, sometimes fatal, lung-related vascular disease characterized by sudden onset of symptoms such as chest pain or difficulty breathing,” said Shirakawa in a press release.  “The disease is caused by obstruction of the pulmonary arteries by blood clots, generally formed in the leg vessels. Risk factors include cancer, prolonged bed rest or sitting, and oral contraceptive use,” he added.

The new Japanese study finds that the more hours a person spends watching television per day results in a corresponding increase in the risk of death from a pulmonary embolism.

The researchers found that someone who watched an average of five or more hours of television per day had twice the risk of dying from PE than those who watched less than two and a half hours a day.

These recent findings have added more support to the link between prolonged sitting and the risks of having a pulmonary embolism.  Other health concerns that have been associated with sitting for long periods of time include obesity, heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer.

The association between prolonged sitting and pulmonary embolisms was first reported in a paper published in the December, 1940 edition of the medical journal The Lancet.  The paper’s author Dr. Keith Simpson, M.D. found that there was an increase in the rate of pulmonary embolism fatalities among those who sat for long periods of time in London’s air-raid shelters during World War II.

To calculate the risk of death from a pulmonary embolism the researchers first considered their test subject’s gender, history of hypertension or diabetes, body mass index (BMI), exercise habits, if they smoked or drank alcohol and among older women, menopausal status.

The researchers discovered that those under 60 years of age who watched TV for more than five hours a day had six times the risk of a fatal pulmonary embolism compared to those who viewed less than two and a half hours of TV per day.

They also found that those within this age group who viewed between 2.5 to 4.9 hours of TV per day had three times the risk of those who watched television less than 2.5 hours a day.

If you were to indulge in TV binge watching, Shirakawa recommends that you take a break from time to time, stand up, and walk around as you watch TV.  He also said that drinking water to prevent dehydration is also important.

Related research has found that prolonged computer gaming has also been associated with pulmonary embolism fatalities.

Shirakawa suggested that more research be conducted to properly assess the risks of pulmonary embolism morbidity and mortality with prolonged use of new audio/visual and personal computing technologies.  “Public awareness of the risk of pulmonary embolism from lengthy leg immobility is essential,” he added.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.