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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Watch Your Weight: Television Programs that Promote a Healthy Lifestyle

It's the second most expensive piece of furniture in most people's homes. Subscription packages cost an extra $50 to multiple hundreds of dollars a month. It's known as the boob tube, idiot box and the electronics baby sitter. It's the one device most people feel they can't live without. It's the television.

Statistically, the number of hours you watch television per day has a direct correlation on your weight and how it fluctuates. A 2006 study by Raynor and colleagues found that subjects who watched the most TV (3 or more hours per week) gained an average of 9 lbs per year. Those subjects who decreased their television watching naturally increased their physical activity and lost weight across the board.

The verdict on television's effect on a healthy lifestyle seems pretty grim. However, in recent years, there had been an upsurge in the popularity of healthy lifestyle programming. These shows fall into three broad categories: weight loss, healthy cooking and stress relief.

Weight Loss The Biggest Loser is a debatable member of healthy lifestyle programming, this show and others like it take overweight contestants and have them compete against other similarly obese contestants to accomplish their weight loss goals. The Biggest Loser has gained worldwide popularity with iterations of the show taking root in Brazil, China, Israel, Netherlands South Africa and Sweden.

The US version, currently shown on the NBC network, is a team based competition where contestants are weighed on a regular basis. At the end, the team that has lost the most weight wins. This show and shows like it have their pros and cons - while the show can be praised for providing examples of very overweight people who can and do lose a significant amount of weight, the show is also reviled by weight loss experts for being too strenuous and focusing too much on the end prize money and not enough on healthy weight loss habits.

Healthy Cooking
Food is a very popular subject for television shows - there is even an entire network dedicated to it. The Food Network offers viewers their choice of "food porn" ranging from cooking competitions like Chopped and Cupcake Wars to reality shows featuring real restaurants like Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives to cooking how to shows like Barefoot Contessa. All have their own draw and offer their own varied contributions to healthy lifestyle programming.

One Food Network show, Healthy Appetite with Ellie Krieger, is an example of “healthy lifestyle” programming, as it shows viewers how to prepare quick, easy food that is high in neither sugar nor fat. The host, who is also a dietitian specializing in nutrition and health, focuses on showing viewers how to substitute “convenience foods” with real, whole foods in similar amounts of preparation time. The show also offers techniques for eating healthy even in challenging situations like at the office, in restaurants and on vacation. But of course, the tips shown on this program only work if viewers apply them to their own lives.

Stress Relief
This is perhaps the most surprising category of healthy lifestyle programming. This category is the most subjective based on the viewer. A favorite comedy can provide relief from a stressful day by allowing the viewer to laugh. Not only does laughter feel good, it also triggers physical changes in the body; laughing lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormone levels and boosts T-Cell counts, potentially stopping a cold from setting up in your body. Luckily these days between online streaming, on demand, and smart phones, we’re able to take our favorite gut-busting shows with us anywhere and watch them any time.

Everyone's sense of humor is different and different people will be drawn to different shows, but shows like The Big Bang Theory on CBS are an example of programs that provide a release vis a vis an unusual collection of humorous characters.

Television is a tool, and viewers who watch mindlessly will inevitably gain weight while being exposed to hours of senseless violence. When used strategically, however, it can be used to improve the viewer’s health and provide relief from the day’s accumulated stress.

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