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The Risks of Television

Sometimes it’s the actual set and not what you’re watching that’s dangerous to your health.

When television is decried, it’s usually as a vast wasteland of mind-numbing drivel, a fount of filth and violence, or a temptation to vegetate oneself into obesity. But sometimes it’s the set itself that poses the immediate risk to your health, along with the cables, the batteries, the antennae and the remote. In what sense all of these injuries are “caused” by a television set or watching television is open to debate: in some cases, the presence of a television or the act of watching television seem incidental to injuries that might have happened anyway; nevertheless, they are coded in the ER as involving a television.

Number of fatal accidents
There were five fatalities in 2006 that involved a television set, based on a national probability sample of hospitals in the U.S. and its territories. There were none in 2005 and six in 2004.

Chance of a fatal accident
One in 55,692,718 in 2006.

Cause of death
The television falls on a very young child, causing fatal injuries, typically to the head.

Number of nonfatal accidents
An estimated 53,337 people visited the ER for accidents involving a television set in 2006.

Chance of a nonfatal accident
Overall: 1 in 5,613.

Typical injuries
Lifting, cheering, and kicking: People put their back out lifting a television, pull muscles from leaping up and down while watching sports, and hurt hands and feet when they punch or kick the set when their teams lose.

Pulling vigorously on a cable can lead to it snapping back and hitting you in the face, and that antenna can give you a nasty poke in the eye. Very young children can bite a cable and burn their mouth, and, of course, there are non-fatal as well as fatal injuries from the set falling on top of the child.

Be careful where you hide the remote
In 2004, a 35-year old male was admitted to the ER after he inserted a TV remote into his rectum and was unable to remove it.

The source of that “vast wasteland” image
Federal Communications Commission chairman Newton Minow declared in a speech in 1961 that

“When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there without a book, magazine, newspaper, profit-and-loss sheet or rating book to distract you — and keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that you will observe a vast wasteland.”

Watch too much TV and become obese?
Several studies published in the International Journal of Obesity have found correlations between children’s exposure to television and an increased risk of becoming overweight and obese, for example:

A study of 2,343 children aged between 9 and 12 enrolled in public schools in New Hampshire and Vermont found that those children with a television in their bedroom who watched at least one session of programming per day had a 32 percent greater chance of being overweight than those without a TV in their bedrooms.



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