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CULTURE DIGEST: Each hour of TV cuts life by 22 min., researchers say; ...

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Watching TV literally takes the life out of people, Australian researchers say.

The British newspaper The Telegraph reported on the results of a study indicating that every hour spent watching TV may reduce a person's life by 22 minutes. Those who watch six hours of programming a day, for example, are at risk of perishing five years sooner than others who are less sedentary.


"TV viewing time may have adverse health consequences that rival those of lack of physical activity, obesity and smoking...," researchers from Australia's University of Queensland stated.

The Telegraph reported that J Lennert Veerman and colleagues examined Australian mortality figures along with a 1999-2000 survey of 11,247 Australians that asked how much time they watched TV. The researchers compared the life expectancy of adults who watch TV with that of adults who did not, concluding that every hour of TV reduced a person's lifespan by 21.8 minutes.

"Because TV viewing is a ubiquitous behaviour that occupies significant portions of adults' leisure time, its effects are significant for overall population health," the researchers, whose work was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, wrote.

British health experts concurred.

"Sedentary behaviour such as vegging in front of the TV is practically a cultural institution these days and it's good to relax for a while, but this study supports the view that too much of it can be bad for our health," Maureen Talbot, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation told The Telegraph.

"Many of us make a conscious decision not to smoke because we know it's bad for us, and this study suggests that more of us should make the same kind of pledge about lounging around and watching lots of TV," Talbot said.

"Introducing more activity to our daily lives, whether it's walking to the shops instead of taking the bus, using the stairs instead of the lift or taking up active hobbies like sport or gardening mean we won't spend as much time in front of the TV where we're likely to pile on the pounds."


LESS DIVORCE CAN SAVE BILLIONS, REFORM ADVOCATES SAY -- Divorce reform advocates are arguing that making divorce less easy can save the government billions of dollars in an era of mounting debt and deficits.

Chris Gersten, founder and chairman of the nonpartisan Coalition for Divorce Reform, told the Washington Times that "the savings to taxpayers will be pretty dramatic" if states pass the coalition's legislative plan which aims to slash divorce rates by a third over five years.

The Times reported that a single-parent family that results from a divorce can put Uncle Sam on the hook for $20,000 to $30,000 a year, which comes to an overall societal expense of between $33 billion and $112 billion a year.

Americans have long favored making divorce more legally difficult, according to the Times, which reported that for more than 30 years, more Americans responding to the General Social Survey indicated they wanted divorce to be harder than those who favored easing the process.

But the Times reported that state divorce reform legislation is a rarity, and very few couples opt in to more restrictive marriages created by such laws. Indeed, New York went in the opposite direction in 2010 by allowing no-fault divorce.

The Times pointed to some of the consequences of divorce as reasons why divorce reformers can't abandon their efforts:

-- A 2010 Pew Charitable Trust study says children of divorced parents often are hindered economically and unable to reach higher-income levels.


-- W. Bradford Wilcox wrote in a 2009 paper, citing research by professors Paul Amato and Alan Booth of Pennsylvania State University, that if America "enjoyed the same level of family stability today as it did in 1960," there would be 70,000 fewer suicides, 600,000 fewer children undergoing therapy, 500,000 fewer acts of teenage delinquency, 750,000 fewer children repeating grades, and 1.2 million fewer school suspensions each year.

-- A new study by Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin says children of divorced parents live an average of five years less than children whose parents stayed together.

PRIMETIME CARTOONS SATURATED WITH EXPLICIT CONTENT -- Children watching the most popular primetime cable cartoons are exposed to a "shocking" amount of adult content, a new Parents Television Council (PTC) study says.

According to a PTC news release, the study, called "Cartoons Are No Laughing Matter," tracked the animated primetime programming that Nielsen data indicates children ages 12-17 most frequently watch on basic cable: Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel and Nick at Nite.

The study found an abundance of sexual content, violence, drug references and depictions, and profanity, mostly on Adult Swim.

"Adult content isn't just creeping into the cartoons that kids today are watching the most; it has overtaken much of that animated programming," PTC President Tim Winter said in the news release. "We're not talking about cartoon characters slipping on banana peels and ramming into doors. Our data demonstrates that today's norm is profanity-laden storylines involving everything from rape and cocaine to STDs and crystal meth."


Winter warned that many parents don't realize how popular Adult Swim is becoming among teens and pre-teens, or that it airs at 9 p.m. ET (8 p.m. CT) on the same channel as kid-focused Cartoon Network.

"Parents need to understand just how explicit these cartoons are so they can make better viewing decisions for their family," he said.

PTC gave Disney Channel and Nick at Nite highly positive "A" ratings for their content, citing a near total absence of any adult content. By contrast, Adult Swim and Cartoon Network received "F" grades.

The study singled out Adult Swim and Cartoon Network for failing to warn parents about adult content through TV rating systems. Winter said in the news release that profanity and graphic sexual depictions aired during the study period on programs rated TV-PG.

"Cartoon Network failed to use the ratings system to warn parents about sexual content, suggestive dialogue and explicit language 100 percent of the time," Winter said. "We also discovered the networks are directly marketing adult entertainment products to kids during TV-PG programming, including R-rated movies and TV-MA shows and DVDs."

According to the news release, PTC documented 1,487 incidents of drugs, sexual content and explicit language during the study period, adding that young viewers saw adult content an average of once every two minutes and 31 seconds.

Parents should be allowed to unsubscribe to explicit cable networks, Winter said, and that even then, there's still a lot of work to be done.


"In addition to cable choice and more responsible programming decisions by the networks, the entire television content ratings system needs to be overhauled," Winter said. "The current system fails parents and families when it comes to accuracy, consistency, transparency and accountability."

John Evans is a writer in Houston.

Copyright (c) 2011 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press

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