With the popularity of box sets and Netflix, slumping in front of the TV, laptop or iPad for a binge-watching session is an increasingly common habit.

But a new study has highlighted fresh concerns about the health impact of a couch potato lifestyle, suggesting it is linked a higher risk of everything from eye complaints to cancer.

The research found screen-gazing for more than three hours was associated with digestive and blood clotting disorders, while being in front of a screen for more than five hours was associated with a higher risk of cancer. TV or screen watching for more than six hours was associated with bladder disease, and more than 11 hours was linked with an increased risk of bowel disease.

However experts say the findings highlight concerns about the impact of inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle on health, rather than the ‘dangers’ of television.

Study author Dr Ivy Shiue, senior research associate at Northumbria University in Newcastle and visiting researcher at Edinburgh University’s Alzheimer Scotland Dementia Research Centre, said the link between TV or screen viewing and ill-health had been investigated in many studies, but tended to focus on heart disease and conditions such as obesity and diabetes.

She said: “TV or screen viewing is impacting on our heart, metabolic and brain function, as shown with previous research evidence. Moreover, excessive TV or screen viewing – between five to 20 hours constantly - could also impact on other body functions because people sit there for excessive hours without body movement or exercise.

“This has a strong implication on the imbalanced lifestyle that could contribute to various chronic diseases.”

The study, published in the journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research, found people who watched TV or screens for two hours on average had 1.5 times higher risk of metabolic syndrome (diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity), nervous system disorder, eye complaints and heart, respiratory or bone disease than those who had TV/screening viewing for less than two hours.

People who watched TV or screens for three hours had 1.5 times on average higher risks of mental, digestive or clotting disorders than those who had TV or screen viewing for less than three hours. And those who had TV or screen viewing for 5 hours had 1.5 times higher risk of cancer.

Even longer viewing sessions were associated with other illnesses – for example, people who watched a screen for eleven hours had a 3.7 times higher risk of bowel disease.

The paper concludes that educational and public health programmes to minimise TV or screen viewing might be required while research on the combined effect of physical inactivity and radiation from screens should also be explored.

However Thea Cunningham, health information officer at Cancer Research UK, said there was no evidence of a link between exposure to television sets or screens and cancer.

But she added: “There is growing evidence suggesting that sitting for long periods of time - which is often linked to weight gain - can increase cancer risk.”

Professor David Haslam, chair of charity the National Obesity Forum, said it was a complex issue – pointing out sitting for hours reading a Thomas Hardy novel could be deemed as harmful as being slumped in front of the television for a similar time.

He said previous research had found the most active children were often also the most sedentary – for example, playing rugby for 80 minutes and then relaxing in front of a film.

He added: “Activity is good, and inactivity is bad, but there must always been a balance between the two. If inactivity outweighs exercise then there may be a problem, but for most normal active kids, time spent on Super Mario is well earned relaxation.

“TV and video games are intrinsically okay, as long as they are part of a balanced life, just as a burger is okay, as long as fruit and veg, and protein in the form of eggs, cheese, fish and meat are also consumed.”