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The Correlation between TV Content and Overeating

What kind of content is viewed can affect the amount and type of food eaten….

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Previous correlational analysis showed a correlation between the frequency of TV viewing during dinner, and adult and child body mass index. However, little is known about whether the content, valence or pace of content affects how much a viewer eats while watching TV.
Aner Tal, PhD and colleagues evaluated the influence of different TV programs on food intake. Ninety-four undergraduate students (57 female; mean age 19.9 years) were gathered in groups of up to 20 people and randomly assigned to watch 20 minutes of 1 of 3 TV program sets. While watching, participants were given generous amounts of 4 snacks (M&Ms, cookies, carrots and grapes) and allowed to eat as much as they wanted.

The results of the study indicated that more distracting TV content led to a higher consumption of food. Participants watching action movie content featuring high camera cuts and high sound variation, consumed 98% more food (206.5g vs 104.3g) and 65% more calories (354.1 vs 214.6) than participants watching interview programs. Even while watching the silent version of the same action movie, participants consumed 36% more food (142.1g vs 104.3g) and 46% more calories (314.5 vs 214.6) compared to participants watching the interview program. Both the difference in amount intake and calorie intake were significant between groups (P<0.001 and P=0.01).

"The more distracting a TV show, the less attention people appear to pay to eating, and the more they eat," explained the authors. Other potential causes, such as increased anxiety, agitation and stimulation level could also be contributing factors for the increase in food intake. Therefore, the authors suggest, that "if people wish to watch TV while eating, they should use proportioned quantities to avoid overeating."

Practice Pearls:

  • Distracting TV content could increase food consumption.
  • Health practitioners should counsel patients on the potential of overeating while watching TV.
  • Other causes such as anxiety, agitation and stimulation levels should also be considered.

Tal A, Zuckerman S and Wansink B. Watch what you eat: Action-related television content increases food intake. JAMA Intern Med. 2014; doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.4098.