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Research Letter: Viewers Ate More While Watching Hollywood Action Flick on TV

EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE: 3 P.M. (CT), MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 1, 2014

Media Advisory: To contact corresponding author Aner Tal, Ph.D., call Melissa Osgood at 607-255-2059 or email mmo59@cornell.edu.

To place an electronic embedded link to this study in your story: A link for this study will be live at the embargo time: http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?doi=10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.4098

JAMA Internal Medicine

Bottom Line: Television shows filled with action and sound may be bad for your waistline. TV viewers ate more M&Ms, cookies, carrots and grapes while watching an excerpt from a Hollywood action film than those watching an interview program.

Author: Aner Tal, Ph.D., of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., and colleagues.

Background: Television has been blamed for helping Americans to gain weight because it encourages a sedentary lifestyle. But the focus of why has been on the medium and not the message. TV is like other distracting activities that can cause people to eat more, including reading, listening to the radio and interacting with dinner companions. However, little is known about whether the content or pace of the content influences how much people eat.

How the Study Was Conducted: The authors examined how objective technical characteristics, such as the frequency of visual camera cuts or variations in sound, might influence how much food is eaten. Their study, which was highlighted in a research letter, included 94 undergraduate students (57 female; mean age nearly 20 years). They gathered in groups to watch 20 minutes of TV and were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 different programs: an excerpt from “The Island,” a Hollywood action movie starring Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson, the interview program “Charlie Rose,” or the identical excerpt from “The Island” but with no sound. Viewers had M&Ms, cookies, carrots and grapes to snack on while watching. The snacks were weighed before and after the program to track how much viewers had eaten.

Results: Viewers watching the more distracting program “The Island,” with its high camera cuts and sound variation, ate 98 percent more grams of food (206.5 vs. 104.3 g) and 65 percent more calories (354.1 vs. 214.6) than viewers who watched “Charlie Rose.” Even viewers of the silent version of “The Island” ate 36 percent more grams of food (142.1 vs. 104.3g) and 46 percent more calories (314.5 vs. 214.6) than “Charlie Rose” viewers.

Discussion: “More distracting TV content appears to increase food consumption: action and sound variation are bad for one’s diet. The more distracting a TV show, the less attention people appear to pay to eating, and the more they eat.”

(JAMA Intern Med. Published online September 1, 2014. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.4098. Available pre-embargo to the media at http://media.jamanetwork.com.)

Editor’s Note: This research was made possible by support from Cornell University. Please see the article for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, financial disclosures, funding and support, etc.

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