Researcher warns: watching medical TV shows can make you feel sick

Thursday, October 14, 2010 by: S. L. Baker, features writer
Tags: TV shows, sickness, health news

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(NaturalNews) According to a new study out of the University of Rhode Island (URI), watching a lot of television can be bad for your health. And, no, this isn't more research about how being a couch potato and munching on junk food while watching the boob tube is unhealthy. Instead, this study zeroes in on the heavy dose of medical content in doctor-centered dramas like "House", "Grey's Anatomy" and "E.R.", as well as the evening news. It turns out, according to study author Yinjiao Ye, assistant professor of communications studies at URI, TV exposure to information about health risks and diseases that are supposedly lurking around every corner can lead people to worry about their bodies and wonder whether it's even possible to protect their own health.

For her study, Dr. Ye surveyed 274 students in the College of Communications at the University of Alabama about their TV viewing and life satisfaction. The students, who were in an age group (18 to 31) associated with good health and energy, did not know the purpose of the study. Dr. Ye found that regularly watching television shows that dramatized disease and pushed medical issues actually reduced a person's satisfaction with their life.

The research, just published in the journal Mass Communication and Society, suggests people who watch a lot of medical-themed TV come away with the idea that people frequently get sick and there's not much that can be done about major illness. That leads them to believe they have a great likelihood of being victimized by health risks and diseases. In addition, it also promotes a strong belief in the severity of those risks and problems.

In a statement to the media, Dr. Ye pointed out that the mass media are powerful in disseminating health knowledge -- but they also can lead people to think they are more likely to suffer from the diseases presented on TV. So, if you are really interested in the health benefits of life satisfaction on health and longevity, she suggested that leisure activities such as socializing and exercise may be better options that spending time watching medical themed television shows.

Another reason to beware of disease and doctor-centered programs: previous research that analyzed popular TV dramas like "Grey's Anatomy" and "House" found some of the medical information presented, especially the first aid techniques portrayed on these shows, was not correct or even safe. For example, a study presented at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting held in Toronto earlier this year revealed that 59 seizures occurred in 327 episodes of these shows. Almost all were shown taking place in a hospital and first aid was performed by "nurses" or "doctors" who, over half the time, delivered emergency care that was inappropriate -- including holding the person down, trying to stop involuntary movements or putting something in the person's mouth.

In addition, when Duke University researchers studied almost 100 episodes of a variety of doctor-themed programs, including "ER", they found CPR portrayals were two to five times more successful than real-life situations and created false and potentially dangerous impressions about the risks and benefits of this rescue technique. Specifically, the study found that in the fictional world of doctor dramas, patients either fully recovered or immediately died after CPR. The shows virtually ignored the very real possibility of long-term or permanent disability caused by their disease, treatment or the CPR itself.

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