The gigantic, page-one flaw in the heart/screen-watching scare.

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.

8 thoughts on “The gigantic, page-one flaw in the heart/screen-watching scare.

  1. In the bad old days, what people used to do if they perceived a possible problem was to do some fair, balanced, accurate, scientifically-based research to confirm whether or not their concerns were justified. If the research supported their concerns, they would then use it as backing for their campaigns.

    What happens now, in the brave new 21st Century World, is that problems no longer go through the perception stage – they become established and proven as soon as they are dreamt up. Research, therefore, no longer has the primary purpose of confirming the concern, or otherwise. What research is for, nowadays, is solely to support the advocacy dealing with the “established” concern – it is no longer designed to be fair, balanced or accurate, and it is scientific only to the extent that it is designed so as to guarantee reaching the conclusion desired by the advocates.

    It all saves so much time, so that’s great, isn’t it?


  2. Research has been hijacked by PR departments. A press release is far cheaper than a science based research programme over several months or even years.

    There is also no time available to research the fact that you have just made up before the next made up fact overtakes you.

    I also blame the advertising world and their “research” that leads to all new brands being a roaring success.

    Oh… and also the inability of most people to distinguish between fact and opinion, is that the fault of education or advertising?


  3. You make a fair point about the ad business, but inability to tell real from false is an issue of discernment.
    Inability to discern the difference between shit and putty is a result of educators not teaching kids to think for themselves. As such, it makes advertising potentially dangerous. But remember, advertising is heavily regulated. Journalism isn’t, and political communication isn’t either. The politicians made themselves THE ONE EXCEPTION to the Advertising Standards Authority. Just fancy that.
    The main thing I learned from 33 years in advertising was that consumers ignore almost all of it most of the time. This is because it is mainly created and guided by morons.


  4. Mr Ward,
    There are already masses of gun control laws supposedly in force, including denial of ownership to felons and mentally ill persons, the problem is that the laws aren’t enforced. In this particular instance the Sheriff needs to be terminated, excuse me, fired, excuse me, not re-elected, at the next election. This nut should have been denied gun ownership but wasn’t because the Sheriff’s dept. wasn’t doing it’s job.
    Personally I believe that an armed society is a polite society and that is certainly my experience in the US, in contrast to the suppressed rage and frustration that so many in England seem to feel.


  5. This is a really interesting point Roger, and one I and many other Brits aren’t aware of. I think this may be akin to cigarettes in the UK 50 years ago – or booze in the States now: they can’t be sold to minors, but you can always find people who will buy the stuff for you.

    The US has always been more polite than here – and more honest, beyond corporate America. Britain never had the rage before, because it never had Government run by clowns, and the economy held to ransom by thick-skinned bankers. What both have produced is a strong and almost discernible scent of “Nobody’s listening to the People”. We will wind up armed here because the police have given up.

    Thanks for the input,
    PS Would Sarah Palin qualify as suitable to own a gun?


  6. Television is a useful relaxant for me after I have spent the entire day wrestling with UK connectivity on broadband. I am currently doing a paper for my employer on the feasibility of doing my business on the internet or alternatively taking the high speed train in person soon to be realised. I have already researched the conclusion which asserts that if I had access to high speed broadband without actually setting up abroad, I would be promoted to 50% tax code.


  7. In Richard North Patterson’s novel Balance of Power there is a suggestion that one of the ways federal gun control legislation is made ineffective is that the pro-gun lobby pressurises Congress to deny it sufficient funding to operate as it is intended.

    Do you suggest that in real life this sort of thing doesn’t happen?


  8. Couldn’t agree more John.

    the Marxist state of New York are trying to mico-maanage every food outlet by dictating (good word that) the SIZE of Salt shakers holes. They’ve stopped one cafe offering complimentary nibbles on their bar.

    In Japan the Marxists dictate (i like that word) what white gloves Taxi drivers are to wear.

    And in Londons’ Camden Market a consenting trader sold a bag of mixed peppers to a consenting buyer and was find £2,000 for it being a ‘mixed’ bag and not dictated in EU Marxist grams. What two consenting adults do is sweet f.a.a to do with the fascists of Gov’t, butt out a’holes.

    We think of Mao and Stalin as dictators. Actually in Western society the Dictators number hundreds and they run around in Nazi uniforms with Health & Safety and Environment badges on their lapels

    Gov’t is the toilet of a country. The sooner Gov’t runs out of our money and goes bankrupt the better. Only a free society and free markets provide benefit to humanity. Debate over.


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