In a 1990 survey, respondents in the United States were asked to identify an activity or activities that consumed a significant portion of their time. Surprisingly, the survey participants ranked television watching as number three after work and sleep (Hive Health Media, 2012). Currently, American households watch an average of 8 hours of television programming each day. More hours than a typical grade school student spends in class or preparing homework. 

A second study of 50,000 women aged 30-55 was conducted by Hu and Associates to determine whether an association between TV watching and obesity actually existed (Hu, Colditz, Willet, & Manson, 2003). The results indicated that TV watching contributed to elevated levels of obesity and type 2 diabetes. According to the study, women had a 23% increased chance of becoming obese for every 2 hours they spent watching television. 


Not surprisingly, The relationship between watching TV and obesity is not limited to adults. This phenomenon is even more evident among young children and teens. With the recent proliferation of technology such as game consoles, computers, and hand-held devices, children spend prolonged hours indoors watching television and participating mainly non-physical activities. In Quatar, a prospective cross-sectional study was conducted among school children aged 6-18 between September 2009 and March 2010, to determine the effects of spending long hours watching TV had on childhood obesity (Bener, et al., 2011). These findings confirmed the hypothesis that there is a definite correlation between obesity and TV watching. 

Similar results were found among adult participants in a study by Huffman and associates in which researchers explored television watching, diet quality, physical activity and diabetes among the study participants in the United States.(Huffman, F.G. et al., 2012). This research indicates a strong causal relationship between TV watching and obesity. 

Another contributing factor to the TV watching  / obesity problem relates to the sedentary nature of the viewer participating in this passive activity. That is to say the viewer is not involved in any type of physical activity that can help the body shed extra weight for prolonged hours. As a result, the metabolism rate is essentially halted or slowed down by a body that is not engaged in significant physical motion. People who prefer to spend a lot of time in front of the television most often do so at the expense of physical exercise. 

Television advertising is another primary factor linking extended TV watching to obesity. Advertisements can easily influence an individual’s decision. This is on reason we see regulations surrounding what should and should not be shown during children’s programming. In one hour of watching television, the average viewer may be exposed to as many as 10 television commercials; most of which pertain to sub par food and beverage offerings.  Observing these junk-food commercials can initiate strong cravings in the viewer. Those same cravings can result in constant snacking while watching TV, which translates into gaining unwanted calories and weight. It is also true that people eat more when watching TV generally. 

A study by Dr. Alan Hirsch, founder and neurologic director of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, found out that people tended to eat more while watching TV than when not watching TV (2012) Television can be very distracting particularly when one is watching an exemplary program. When an individual is eating and watching a television program at the same time, they do not pay attention to the volume of food consumed. As a result, dietary guidelines are neglected inevitably resulting in over eating and weight gain. 

Unfortunately, in some neighborhoods, watching television appears to be the only safe form of entertainment available to children due to the higher than average crime in these areas. As noted by Katz (2006), lack of access to healthy foods, inadequate transportation, lack of exercise facilities, and violence all serve to restrict the ability to exercise and eat nutritious foods for residents in places like the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood in San Francisco. As a result, these social determinants lead to adverse outcomes with adverse effects such as hypertension, obesity and high cholesterol.

Bener, A. et al. (2011). Obesity and low vision as a result of excessive Internet use and television viewing. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 62 (1), 60-62

Hive Health Media (2012). Watching TV and Obesity: Is There a Link? Accessed September 9, 2012 from

Hu, F. B. Colditz, G.A., Willet, W.C., & Manson, J.E. (2003). Television watching and other sedentary behaviors in relation to risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus in women. Journal of American Medical Association, 289 (14), 1785-1791

Huffman, F.G. et al. (2012). Television Watching, Diet Quality, and Physical Activity and Diabetes among Three Ethnicities in the United States. Journal of Environmental and Public Health, Article ID 191465, 10 pages doi:10.1155/2012/191465

Katz (2006). Health Programs in Bayview Hunter’s Point & Recommendations for Improving the Health of Bayview Hunter’s Point Residents. San Francisco Department of Public Health. Retrieved September 2012, from

The Endocrine Society (2012). Watching late-night TV while eating increases the amount we eat. Accessed September 9, 2012 from

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Television and Obesity by Brenda Rivera-Billings, MS.c is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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