"Binge watch" was just dubbed the word of the year, thanks to the many Americans who watch large numbers of programs in one sitting. A team of researchers from the University of Toledo's Department of Health and Recreation set out to discover how people feel when they binge-watch TV. The new research, presented at the American Public Health Association's 143rd Annual meeting in Chicago, revealed a previously undiscovered link between binge watching and depression and anxiety.
For the study, researchers asked 406 participants to record how much TV they watched each night, and how they felt along the way. Out of all the participants, 77 percent watched at least two hours of TV a night and were considered bingers, while 35 percent reported watching far more. But after watching just two hours of TV participants reported feeling more depressed and anxious than those who spent fewer time watching TV.
"We do not know which came first," said the study's co-author Dr. Monika Karmarkar, a doctoral candidate at the University of Toledo, according to New York Daily News. "Depression, anxiety, and stress led them to binge watch or if binge watching led to depression, anxiety, and stress."
The rates of binge watching have reportedly tripled since 2014, making it a sharp and rapidly growing habit among Americans. People love online streaming services, like Netflix and Hulu, for both its large quantities of TV shows and movies, as well as its limited commercial interruption. Not to mention these services come at little cost to consumers.
The present study isn't the first to link Americans' new habit with poorer mental health. Back in January, research presented at the International Communication Association's 65th annual conference found binge-watching TV series was linked to increased feelings of loneliness and lower levels of self-control.
Is it that those who tend to be lonely, depressed, anxious, and have low levels of self-control are the types of people who binge-watch TV? Or is it the other way around? Does binge watching somehow create a confinement of unhealthy solitude in a person for hours at a time? Karmarkar admits they aren't sure, which highlights the study's limitations.
"There is a whole other side of this we did not study in our research. We did not look at eating habits or exercising habits," Karmarkar said. "But TV watching is a sedentary behavior and sedentary behaviors lead to mental health problems and medical symptoms shown to increase cardiovascular disease and risk of diabetes."
Source: Karmarkar M, et al. American Public Health Association’s 143rd Annual meeting. 2015.