1999.05.10 Television's Negative Health Effects
by Tom Heston, MD
In the last issue of The Internet Medical Journal we discussed the effect of television upon violence in society. But what about the other negative health effects of television? This week's pearls add even more evidence to the theory that excessive television has terrible health side-effects. The primary problem is with weight.
We know that kids who watch a lot of television tend to be heavier than kids who don't. So what about adults? A study in this issue found that men who watched 40 hours or more of television a week had a greater incidence of gall stone disease. Other pearls highlight the inaccuracy of television portrayals of medical care. The television shows in America, and to a lesser extent in Great Britain, give an almost magical view of medical care. The shows give the impression that if you are lucky enough to be cared for by one of the TV doctors, you almost surely will survive. This unrealistic portrayal of the benefits of medical care probably contribute to the high rates of lawsuits against doctors (since patients have unrealistic expectations). Also, the portrayal of modern medical care as a "silver bullet" or magical cure allows people to shift personal responsibility for their health over to the medical system. Imagine watching over 40 hours of television a week, every week. Then imagine seeing medical care as nearly always successful at healing sick patients. Are you going to take as much responsibility for your health as you would if the television shows you watched were more in touch with reality?
Perhaps the most harmful effect of television is its contribution to racism and racial stereotypes. Several media studies have shown, for example, that a disproportionate number of black characters are criminals. Apparently, because the majority of the American viewing public is white, the television producers feel they can get away with this negative characterization of the African American. It's pure evil.
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