Watching Television Can Enforce Bad Snacking Habits

Clinical Herbalist Reviewed on July 31, 2009 by Paulina Nelega, RH
Posted in Blog

In the last few years, a variety of studies have been conducted on both children and adults to prove that too much television watching can lead to bad eating habits. However, a recent study in the Health Psychology journal has gone one step further: Automatic snacking behavior may be triggered by television advertisements of junk foods, which could potentially lead to weight gain and obesity amongst both children and adults.

A course of experiments were conducted at Yale University and were designed to evaluate the influence of watching television, that included junk food advertising, health food advertising or no advertising, on a person’s eating habits.

Through the results of the study it was discovered that children who watched cartoons incorporating junk food advertisements lasting half an hour, ate more than 45% more snack food whilst watching the cartoon, as a child who had watched the same cartoon but without the junk food advertisement.

Based on this finding, researchers have estimated that it is possible to gain at least 10 lbs per year from increased snacking that is triggered by junk food advertisements whilst watching only 30 minutes of television per day.

Adults were the subject of another study, in which the results proved that those adults, who watched television with mostly junk food advertisements, actually ate more food than those adults who watched television with healthy food advertisements.

In both of the studies, it was found that watching television shows that contained advertisements for food, actually increased the consumption of available food, regardless of whether or not the food consumed was the same food that was advertised.

The Director of Marketing Initiatives at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale, Jennifer Harris, PhD, who was also the lead author of the study, stated that:

“This research shows a direct and powerful link between television food advertising and calories consumed by adults and children. These experiments demonstrate the power of food advertising to prime automatic eating behaviors. Food advertising triggers automatic eating, regardless of hunger, and is a significant contributor to the obesity epidemic. Reducing unhealthy food advertising to children is critical.”

As previously mentioned, this is not the first time that research has indicated a link between the television and a person’s diet. Research has been conducted to prove that eating in front of a television set does, in fact, lead to an increase in bad caloric consumption and a decrease in the consumption of healthy foods such as vegetables and fruits.

Yet another example is of a 2008 study conducted at the University of Waterloo in Canada which found that watching television could result in a boost in mechanical snacking behavior, which would then obviously lead to considerable weight gain, in spite of any food advertisements or the frequency of such food advertisements.

In consideration of these facts, one can easily make a connection between the amount of advertisements that appear on children’s television programming per hour throughout the USA, and the amount of obese children that live in the USA.

It was even found that adults who watched more than 2 hours of television per day actually ate more calories during their snacks and at their evening meal. However, this study only revealed an increase of 137 calories in adults who watched more than 2 hours of television per day versus those adults who only watched less than an hour of television per day. Although this doesn’t sound like much, it can equal out to be about an extra 14.3 pounds per year of weight gain.

Evidence has shown that even the type of food that is consumed has a direct correlation with the television viewing behavior of both children and adults. It seems that the more television that is watched, the more high-caloric food is eaten, such as pizza and sodas.

Even though it is fairly easy to blame weight gain on the low level of physical activity that is required in order to watch television, these studies simply prove that we actually eating more when we are watching television. Simply put: the more television that is watched, the higher the amount of calories that are consumed.

Adults and children that watched the most amount of television per day also consumed the least amount of fiber per 1000 calories that they consumed. They also consumed the highest amount of total fat, carbohydrates than those adults and children who watched less than an hour of television per day.

However, the same research has indicated that television advertisements for healthy foods can actually foster a healthier attitude in children towards those same foods. Therefore, simply changing the type of food advertisements on children’s television to more nutritious foods, it can lead to improved health amongst children in the future.

Photo Credit: ralphbijiker

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Our Expert

Paulina Nelega, RH
Paulina Nelega, RH, has been in private practice as a Clinical Herbalist for over 15 years. She has developed and taught courses in herbal medicine, and her articles on health have appeared in numerous publications. She is very passionate about the healing power of nature. Ask Dr. Jan

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