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Does Eating In Front Of A TV Make You Eat Worse?

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After working a late day at the office, nothing sounds better than curling up on the couch, turning on the TV, and chowing down on some food. But that little slice of heaven may be hell on the body. Studies show that eating while watching television causes people to make poor food choices and also overeat [1]. It turns out junk on TV can translate into junk food, especially for those with pantries full of Kardashian Krunch.

The Food Tube - Why It Matters

Television and Food

Photo by John Chock

On average, Americans watch over four hours of TV a day. While watching television doesn’t directly cause weight gain, when combined with late-night snacking, that viewing may add up to extra pounds.

In a recent study, adolescents who watched over two hours of television a day consumed more high-calorie snacks (such as chips and soda) and fewer low-calorie snacks (such as fruits and water) than those who watched less, to the tune of 106 extra calories [1]. Hardly what people expect when they plop down for a SpongeBob Squarepants marathon.

Television viewers are more likely to become distracted and lose track of how much they're consuming, which can easily lead to overeating. But increased consumption may also result from mindless eating, which occurs when outer food cues (images and sounds) subvert inner cues (actual feelings of hunger or fullness). Rather than eating in response to their hunger, people are thrown off by TV images that supplant real desire. And unless Bobby Flay stops throwing down, prime time doesn’t always feature the most waistline-friendly foods, nor does it highlight the importance of balanced nutrition.

Don't Be Distracted - The Answer/Debate

In a country where 37% of television ads and hundreds of shows dedicate their content to food, the exposure adds up to a lot of influential imagery [3]. No wonder we head to the bakery after an intense confrontation on Cake Boss.

To decrease caloric intake and potentially increase enjoyment of the meal, it may be best to press pause until dinner is done. Removing television’s outer food cues and other distractions from mealtime allows the body to better signal its true feelings.

Certainty Level

Paula Deen

Even Paula Deen tells ya’ll that eating while watching TV can pack on the pounds. But she won’t say the same about butter.

Works Cited

  1. Mediators of longitudinal associations between television viewing and eating behaviours in adolescents. Pearson, N., Ball, K., Crawford, D. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. March 30, 2011
  2. Mediators of longitudinal associations between television viewing and eating behaviours in adolescents. Pearson, N., Ball, K., Crawford, D. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. March 30, 2011
  3. Effect of television advertisements for foods on food consumption in children. Halford, J.C., Gillespie, J., Brown, V., et al. Liverpool, UK. Apetite. April 2004