TV's unintended consequences -- good and bad

Television can have a huge influence on our lives. But the most important influences may be the ones we don't even notice. I discuss several fascinating studies about television in my latest column on Here's a snippet:

Travis Saunders, a PhD student at the University of Ottawa who studies the impact of sedentary lifestyles, questions whether a little exercise can make up for hours of inactivity. He refers to a study led by G.F. Dunton of the University of Southern California and published in October in the International Journal of Obesity. The researchers conducted a phone survey of 10,000 Americans who ranged from normal weight to obese. As you might expect, people who engaged in a lot of physical activity tended to weigh less than those who did not.

But when the researchers considered how much time these individuals spent watching TV and movies, a different pattern emerged. No matter how much TV they watched, if they didn't exercise, they had high BMIs (body mass index--a measure of obesity). But even among people who exercised more than an hour a day, those watching more than an hour of TV per day had significantly higher BMIs than those who did not. In fact, for respondents who watched more than an hour of TV, whether or not they exercised no longer predicted BMI.

And there are many other surprising correlations between TV watching and both detrimental and beneficial results. For more, read the whole article.


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People eat while sitting in front of the TV.

35 yrs. ago when I was studying the impact of mass media I came across a few studies indicating actual ill physiological effects from sedentarily watching TV (essentially watching a rapidly flickering artificial light) -- I haven't kept up, but would think by now there must be some further research on the specific negative biological changes to brain and body of watching TV (regardless of content).
Most everyone will probably agree with the notion that movement and exercise are hugely beneficial to well-being and are what nature intended. Anecdotally, I've known many folks who actively dance and/or play a musical instrument well into older age, and they are almost always healthier (and less obese) than their counterparts who do little physically. My hunch is that regular activities like music/dance that are ALSO joyful and creative are even more beneficial than exercise/calisthenics/running that are more regimented.

...and one more thing: the article focuses on TV, but planting oneself in front of a computer screen for hours on end likely results in most of the same detrimental effects on physical well-being (even though it's at least a little more interactive) that TV does, (that doesn't deny the obvious benefits computers bring to society as a whole, but fitness or weight-loss ain't one of them!).

Maybe people that don't watch TV also have other habits that account for the lower BMI. I think focusing on TV might be misleading. Maybe non-TV watchers are part of a specific group of people who have access to better meals.

Yeah, I would consider other habits because I'm in front of a computer for way more hours than a person should be and I checked my BMI was 17.3 today and it is usually around 18.

I love dancing and so I agree with ARJ.

I agree with Fernando. I believe there is a large correlation between tv watching and socio-economic variables, which in turn correlate with weight. So, I wouldn't rush to some causal explanation here, it might be a class thing.

I watch tv for an hour each day while I am on the treadmill.
how does that compute?

Great Article Mr. Munger. My only advice would be
to get a better drawing of you, the cartoon makes
you look pretty dour, while you look much livelier
in you photo... just my 2 cents worth.