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The better the story, the bigger the serving! TV distracts us into snacking

By Annie-Rose Harrison-Dunn , 14-Aug-2013
Last updated on 14-Aug-2013 at 12:42 GMT

Being immersed in a storyline distracts us from feeling full and realising how much we have snacked
Being immersed in a storyline distracts us from feeling full and realising how much we have snacked

Whether or not we are fully engrossed in a TV programme or video game's plot affects the amount we snack, research suggests.

“One of the mechanisms by which television watching affects health is increased snacking during television watching periods. Though food advertisements appear to be partially responsible for this affect, multiple studies suggest that TV also increases energy intake due to distraction from satiety cues,” according to researchers at The University of North Carolina.

Study details

This new study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity examined the snacking habits of 60 females and 60 males aged 18 – 35 while watching television and playing video games.

Participants were stratified by gender and then randomized into one of three conditions: TV watching, typical video gaming, or motion-controlled video gaming. The game or commercial-free T.V. was chosen by the participants themselves and they were able to change at any time during the hour long session.

They measured the results within different categories looking at the variables of feelings of enjoyment, engagement (mental immersion), spatial presence (the feeling of being in the game), and transportation (immersion in a narrative).

Transported into a snacking world...

They found that transportation (immersion in a narrative) was the biggest influence on increased snacking. When a continuous TV programme was compared to loops of 1.5-minute portions of the same show, they found that the continuous programme induced higher levels of snacking.

“These results suggest that different forms of distraction may differentially affect eating behaviour during screen time, and that narrative appears to be a particularly strong distractor,” said the researchers.

Overall the results showed average kilo-calorie intake was 716 for TV, 747 for video gaming, and 553 for motion-controlled gaming.

The researchers acknowledged that this last category may have come out bottom due to the participants having less freedom with their hands.

Eating occasions

Low consumer confidence in light of wider economic uncertainty has led to a boom in 'big night in' food products. Research indicates that consumers may be more inclined to stay in and recreate a night out within their own homes in order to save money.

The snack industry in particular has attempted to cater to these eating occasions of staying in and watching a film or television or playing a video game. Brands such as Butterkist popcorn have been seen to do this recently with its promotional partnership with Universal Studios, and crisp and chocolate brands increasingly offer large, sharing-style packs. 

Source: International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2013
Published on-line ahead of print, doi:10.1186/1479-5868-10-60
“The better the story, the bigger the serving: narrative transportation increases snacking during screen time in a randomize.”
Authors: Elizabeth J Lyons, Deborah F Tate and Dianne S Ward.

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