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Watching Food Related Television Increases Caloric Intake in Restrained Eaters

Shimizu, Mitsuru and Brian Wansink (2011). Watching Food-Related Television Increases Caloric Intake in Restrained Eaters. Appetite, Volume 57, 661-664. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2011.08.006.

Many past studies have shown that television viewing is associated with increased food intake. Research also suggests that restrained eaters, or dieters, will respond more strongly to environmental cues associated with food than non-dieters. Restrained eaters are often debating their desire to control their weight and their goal to enjoy palatable food, and palatable food cues from the environment tend to push them to override the first desire and consume more. We conducted this study to test how television content, food intake and restrained eating status are related. We hypothesized that those restrained eaters who watched a television program with food related content would eat more candy than unrestrained eaters.

For this study 180 undergraduate students were recruited and told that we were interested in how the television program influenced their taste of candy. Both groups watched two SpongeBob SquarePants episodes and were given 10 mini Snickers and 5 Hillside Candies. The experiment group watched episodes that were food related, one where SpongeBob sold chocolate bars and the other where Jellyfish Hunter collected jelly from a jellyfish while the control group watched non-food related episodes. Participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire about their television and snacking experience and then completed a “10-item Restrained Eating Scale.” We recorded the number of candies eaten during the television programs and calculated the number of calories taken in by each individual and their BMI (Body Mass Index).

Results showed no overall difference in candy intake based on the TV content. Instead they showed that the influence of the TV content depended on restrained eating status. Among unrestrained eaters, there was no overall difference in intake whether they watched a food-related or non-food-related television program and all results were independent of BMI. However, while watching the non-food related program restrained eaters consumed 2.71 Mini Snickers and 2.05 Hillside candies versus 4.04 Mini Snickers and 2.35 Hillside Candies consumed while watching a food-related program. Restrained eaters also ate more candy under both conditions than unrestrained eaters.

Our finding clearly revealed a moderating role of restrained eating status in the relationship between TV program content and how much participants consumed while watching it. Future research should expand to include a wider range of age groups and BMI statuses as well as different settings of consumption such as snacking on salty foods or eating a full meal while watching television programs. Furthermore, it would be important to examine if the effect can be replicable using other types of TV programs that involve foods (e.g. cooking).