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Increase in TV "binge-watching" sparks debate about impact

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 26 2014 12:15 p.m. MST

Television series' released by streaming sites such as Netflix have made binge-watching mainstream. Writers and experts debate whether watching multiple episodes of a show in one sitting is good for people's health.

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About 670,000 viewers devoured the entire 13-episode second season of "House of Cards" over the Presidents’ Day weekend, according to data company Procera’s research reported in Business Insider.

Whether viewers are watching the political wiles of the ruthless majority whip in "House of Cards" (a series that even President Obama cannot stop watching), absorbing endless episodes of the prison comedy-drama "Orange is the New Black," or following the struggles of a chemistry teacher turned drug dealer in "Breaking Bad" (another Obama favorite), Americans are watching more television series in large chunks.

Series like these allow television junkies to easily get their fix by "binge-watching," or viewing multiple back-to-back episodes of a series in one sitting, especially when on-demand streaming sites such as Netflix release an entire TV series at the same time. As binge-watching gains momentum, writers and experts are debating its impact on Americans' health.

Some, like Harvard School of Public Health lecturer Lilian Cheung, believe watching too much TV is deleterious to one’s physical health.

“There’s convincing evidence in adults that the more television people watch, the more likely they are to gain weight or become overweight or obese,” said Cheung in a NBC article.

A 2011 OECD study shows that American households watch more than eight hours of television a day — more than in any other developed country in the study.

Professor John Black, an instructor at Columbia University who studies technology’s impact on memory and learning, made a comparison between binge-watching and becoming addicted to drugs.

"You take a dosage of a drug and have a certain amount of reaction to it. But if you keep doing it, it takes more and more of the same drug to get the same reaction. If you’re watching too much at a time, you kind of get dull to it and you’re not really appreciating the show," said Black in NBC's article.

However, he also believes that binge-watching is fine as long as the viewer does not "zone out," according to NBC.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang of the U.K.'s Independent, however, writes that binge-watching is mentally calming. Pang interviewed avid TV fans who think watching hours of their favorite shows is restorative.

“It’s strategic and methodically organized — a protest against technology-enabled mindlessness. It’s a way to reclaim their time and attention in a rushing, distracting world,” said Pang in the Independent.

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