Another medical myth is handed out to a hungry media set

It’s been difficult bordering on impossible over the last few days to avoid the ‘finding’ that watching television is a major ‘factor’ in the development of heart disease.

The study behind this conclusion (which is reported in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology) looked as if it might be onto something, because it appeared to have factored in other more likely links – for example, the correlation between being a couch potato and not doing any exercise. Or the correlation between being a pc nerd and not even knowing what exercise is in the first place, on account of having been born and raised in a silo.

Unfortunately, the study is a sandcastle doomed to disappear under the first tide of interrogation.

Between 2003 and 2007, the research followed 4500 UK adults, and concluded that ‘Recreational sitting, as reflected by television or screen viewing time, is related to raised mortality and CVD risk regardless of physical activity participation’.

As you can see, already here there’s a flaw: sitting time as reflected by television/screen viewing time. People do many other things while sitting: they read, they knit, they examine the wallpaper and so forth. There is nothing in this study – not a single iota of data anywhere – to cope with that reality. Yet screens have been isolated as a potentially causal factor in cardiovascular disease. Dooh.

This is like concluding that GM drivers have more strokes than pedestrians, without talking to the devotees of any other marque. The reality is that the ACC chose screens because gaping at them is by now the most common thing done when sitting. But in any one day (given the 4-hour median chosen by the study) it could still be a minority activity. They might be spending 6 hours sitting and worrying about whether they’ll get a heart attack on not. Dooh.

The final worry is that of all the places on Earth, the ACC chose as their venue for this ground-breaking study….Scotland.

The one reason you never test-market a candy product in Scotland is the same one explaining why this study shouldn’t have been conducted there: the Scots consume truly gargantuan amounts of sugar and fat. The nation’s sugar consumption is roughly twice the rercommended average from the BMA. Endless studies have fingered sugar as a primary factor in the very high Scottish heart-disease incidence.

Now I’ve only read the ACC’s data/method abstract; but from that, it seems clear that specific dietary oddness was not factored in as a co-variable. Obesity was – but any dietician will tell you that many metabolic types can have huge intakes of sugar and fat, and not become obese.

What I can tell you is that there is a well-proven correlation between eating pizzas and candy-bars while watching television…and heavy sugar and fat users are heavier viewers of television per se. So those in the sample doing this less would’ve been lighter consumers of sugar and fat anyway. Dooh.

Last but not least, there is no allowance in the survey for the content of what  screen-addicts were watching. Compared to all the other gaffes it’s a minor point – but it does highlight further just how much has been extrapolated from a small, atypical and superficial study of doing not very much while sitting.

So to sum up, there is no evidence in this study that watching screens for too long is a factor in heart disease, either in Scotland or anywhere else. It is highly likely that other forms of doing-nothingness sitting are just as dangerous.

Ignore this research, it’s bollocks. But don’t eat deep-fried Mars bars while watching Psycho. It’s probably bad for you.