All Those TV-Watching Marathons Could Affect Your Views On Nutrition


Got a TV-watching marathon in your future? You might want to read this first. (Photo: Getty Images)

Netflix and Hulu binge-watchers, listen up: A new study shows that people who watch a lot of TV not only eat more unhealthy foods, they also are more likely to have a “fatalistic view” of healthy eating. In other words, they are more likely to feel helpless when it comes to nutrition, and that it doesn’t really matter if they eat healthfully or not.

The research, published in the International Journal of Communication and Health, is based on data from 591 college students with an average age of 22, more than half of whom were women. Researchers calculated how much TV and TV news they watched on a typical weekend and weekday, and also asked them questions to gauge their views on and knowledge of nutrition. They also asked them about their nutritional intake (questions such as “How likely are you to drink soda when thirsty?”).

University of Houston researchers wanted to look specifically at how fatalistic views surrounding nutrition might be associated with TV watching behavior, since previous research has shown a link between fatalistic views about cancer and having less belief in self-capability when it comes cancer risk-reducing behaviors.

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Confirming past research, the new study found that the more TV a person watched (both general TV and TV news), the more unhealthy food he or she was likely to eat. Plus, researchers found an association between general TV watching and having fatalistic views on healthy eating and not knowing a lot about nutrition. (TV news watching was only associated with the fatalistic views on healthy eating, but not the nutritional knowledge.)

“Given the conflicting messages about food presented within entertainment, advertising, and the news media, it is not surprising that heavy [TV] users develop these attitudes,” the researchers wrote in the study. “After all, on the one hand, heavy users are told to eat a lot of sugary drinks and snacks, while on the other, they are told to avoid those snacks in favor of a variety of other foods. If all messages being presented conflict, it becomes hard to decipher exactly what should be followed. This could lead to the belief that it is just not possible to fully understand nutrition.”

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While the study doesn’t show a causal relationship — it does not prove, for instance, that a lot of TV watching will make you have a fatalistic view of healthy eating or poor knowledge of nutrition — experts do say that there is a clear link between food ads on TV and eating behaviors. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Communications and Media issued a policy statement back in 2011, for instance, warning parents of the potential effects watching food ads has on their kids.

A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association: Internal Medicine also showed that the type of TV could influence how much we snack. People chow down more during action movies than TV interview news shows, the study found.

So what’s the best thing to do to avoid unhealthy snacking the next time you settle in front of a screen? Try eating your food with your opposite hand to make you more mindful of what you’re putting in your mouth, or put your food in a bowl instead of eating directly out of the bag, experts suggest. For more tips, click here.

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