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City Places for City People
It's Not Just the Television

by Eric Miller

Did it surprise you? That recent news article about television and how it can kill you? The stories which appeared around the country came from a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showing that merely two to three hours per day of watching television is associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, fatal and nonfatal cardiovascular disease and all-cause death.

The average number of daily hours of TV viewing has recently been reported to be five hours.

Granted, it's not just the television, but what we do in front of it. Aside from not moving we tend to eat bad foods, drink sweetened beverages and smoke.

I'm also here to say, it's likely not just television. I personally don't even have a television, and these reports opened my eyes a little. I don't have any research to back it up, but video-game watching and computer use could be equally treacherous. Anyone who works in an office spends five hours or more in front of a screen. What the difference between a television screen and a computer screen? The chair may not be as soft, but the doughnuts and other snacks readily available in the break room are just as bad. Each requires you to sit still and stay in place.

Then there's the car. It's easy to imagine being in a car for two or more hours a day. Bad food is readily available along the way. You don't even have to get out of the car, just say "super-size me please!"

There used to be a "how long will you live" type of survey on the Internet. Out of curiosity I extended the hours spent driving and entered smoking to see the effect on life expectancy. Spending a lot of time in the car seemed to have a similar effect on life expectancy as smoking.

Combined with the risk of accidents, it wouldn't surprise me if spending a lot of time in the car would have a larger impact than even a few hours of television watching.

A lot of what ails us or leads us to health troubles is in the way we live. The way to change that is not a diet or a regime, but a routine. There's no machien or miracle ingredient to buy, but lots of habits to re-arrange. I'm not talking about going to the gym and eating organic food. I'm talking about how you arrange your life to make what is healthy convenient.

A lot of that is affected by where you live.

Let's look at a list of cities with the most television watching. The Nielsen list from 2009 showing places with the most prime time viewing includes six cities in the Southern U.S., plus Pittsburgh.

The top ten for all-day television watching are Memphis, New Orleans, Birmingham, Knoxville, Las Vegas, Norfolk, Spartanburg, Richmond, Jacksonville, and Greensboro.

Compare that to a short list of the most walkable cities, which include places like New York, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia. Then cities with the longest commuting times, many of which seem to be in Oklahoma, Texas and Florida.

The most fit cities? Forbes says Austin, Hartford, San Francisco, Sacramento and Denver. The Fattest? Men's Health says Corpus Christi, Charleston (WV), El Paso, Dallas and Memphis. Cities with the best public transportation? Those are Denver, New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Portland according to the American Public Transit Association.

Sure, these lists don't add up to anything exact, but you can gelan something from the information. If you live where it's hard to use your feet to get anywhere, you will drive. When you get home, you won't go back out, you'll watch television. As a result, you may take years off of your life.

It's not just the television. It's you. It's where you are. Get up, turn off the television. Cancel the cable. Choose to live near your work and other amenities. Downsize if necessary. If you can't live near work, live near a grocery store and walk there every day.

If you can't walk, use a bike or public transit. Pick up a newspaper now and then.

Get out in the world. Live.

Eric Miller