Study shows what you watch can affect your diet

YOU are no longer what you eat, but what you watch. The stars of action movies may be rippling with muscles but watching them can leave viewers rippling with flab according to new research.

Films that don't hold your attention or bore you make you more likely to pay attention to how much you eat. Picture: Kenny Smith
Films that don't hold your attention or bore you make you more likely to pay attention to how much you eat. Picture: Kenny Smith

A medical study has found that snacking during gripping action thrillers such as The Island, which starred the Scots actor Ewan McGregor, can lead to overeating as viewer lose track of how much they consume.

An increasing amount of research has shown an association between TV viewing and higher food consumption and a more sedentary lifestyle. However a new study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association: Internal Medicine, has found that not all TV is alike and that some programmes can lead viewers to eat twice as much as others. The research paper’s lead author Doctor Aner Tal, of Cornell University, in the United States, said: “We find that if you’re watching an action movie while snacking your mouth will see more action too. In other words, the more distracting the programme is the more you will eat.”

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In the study, conducted by researchers at the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, 94 undergraduates snacked on M&Ms, biscuits, carrots and grapes while watching 20 minutes of television programming. A third of the participants watched a segment of the action movie The Island, a third watched a segment from the talk show, the Charlie Rose Show, and a third watched the same segment from The Island without sound.

The paper’s co-author Doctor Brian Wansink, author of Slim by Design and Professor and Director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, said: “People who were watching The Island ate almost twice as many snacks – 98 per cent more than those watching the talk show. Even those watching The Island without sound ate 36 per cent more.”

The Island was a science fiction action movie, released in 2005 and starring Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson as clones who go on the run and was directed by Michael Bay, who is infamous for his fast-cutting action sequences.

The study found that People watching the more distracting content also consumed more calories, with 354 calories consumed by those watching The Island - 314 calories with no sound, compared to 215 calories consumed by those watching the talk show. Dr Tal said: “More stimulating programmes that are fast paced, include many camera cuts, really draw you in and distract you from what you are eating. They can make you eat more because you’re paying less attention to how much you are putting in your mouth.”

Dr Tal said because of this, programmes that engage viewers more might wind up being worse for their diets. To avoid overeating during a favourite chase scene, the researchers suggest setting out a limited amount of snacks instead of bringing out a whole bag of chips or box of biscuits. Dr Wansink noted that the best solution is to bring out the healthy snacks, such as carrots. He added: “The good news is that action movie watchers also eat more healthy foods, if that’s what’s in front of them. Take advantage of this.”