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Americans watch more TV but enjoy it less
Newswise — If you suspect your parent or
upstairs neighbor would get more out of life
if they’d turn off their TVs, you might be
on to something, according to new research.
“Older adults watch two or three times more
TV than other people, yet enjoy it less,”
said Colin Depp, Ph.D., lead author of a
study on U.S. adults and leisure activities.
The findings came from a sample of nearly
4,000 Americans ages 15 to 98. Participants
completed survey diaries in which they
described their activities during parts of
their previous day and rated their own
levels of happiness, stress and life
Among reading, socializing, hobbies and
other choices, television was the most
popular activity in all age groups, but the
older people were, the more they watched –
with diminishing returns.
“Younger people watching TV are less
stressed. Older people don’t seem to
experience the benefit of ‘de-stressing’
while watching TV,” Depp said.
Although there were some easy-to-predict
associations – such as the idea that people
who spend more time alone watch more TV –
that did not account for the reduced
enjoyment and greater sadness reported by
In general, though, older adults tend to
report feeling as happy and satisfied with
life compared to younger and middle-age
groups, the authors say.
Depp is with the Stein Institute for
Research on Aging at the University of
California, San Diego, and the Center for
Health and Well Being at Princeton
University collected the surveys. The study
appears online and in the August issue of
the American Journal of Preventive
Other studies have shown that too much
TV-viewing leads to increased risk for
obesity diabetes, loss of bone density and
dementia: “It combines several unhealthy
behaviors,” Depp said: the sedentary aspect,
the snacking, the mindlessness.
Catherine Bevil, with the University of
Nebraska Medical Center, College of Nursing,
also has conducted research on adults and
leisure activities. She said she would have
liked the study to “address disabilities and
other health limitations: how they
contribute to the increasing propensity to
watch TV with age.”
With the barriers that some people face, “TV
becomes the default activity,” Depp said.
An August 2009 article in Variety reported a
study that viewers for the “Big Three”
broadcast networks are “growing older than
ever” with their median age (excluding DVR
users) rising to 51.
Short of hiding the remote, what can
concerned family members do?
“Unlike with kids, where you can control how
much TV they watch, with older people
there’s no mandate,” Depp said.
Bevil suggests that it is far easier to
shape viewing habits in childhood than
middle and late adulthood. “Health
professionals and parents should ask, “How
can we begin early in life with our children
to help them develop healthy patterns in how
to use their time?”