Idle TV watching is a common pastime of Americans, and according to the U.S. Department of Labor, which cites the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), the average American watches 2.8 hours of television per day. While some forms of television can captivate your attention and get your mind stimulated, a new study found that women who watch boring television eat more.
The study by researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden arrived at this conclusion after studying the snacking habits of 18 women while they watched two different types of television programs. There were two programs that were shown — one was an engaging Swedish comedy show while the other was a “boring” art lecture. To get a control point, the researchers also had women read text on insects living in Sweden.
Their findings were astounding. Women who watched the boring television program consumed 52 percent more food than those who watched the comedy. A similar trend was found when comparing food consumption between the engaging TV show and the boring text, as women ate 35 percent less food when watching the comedy than when reading about the insects.
“At very low levels of engagement, you kind of eat to engage yourself because you’re bored,” says Aner Tal, a research associate at Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab, to TIME magazine. “It might also have to do with the pacing.”
The findings of the Swedish researchers are consistent with those from a report by the Eunice Kennedy Shrive National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, which found looked at television and food consumption habits in children. Published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, the researchers found that, “For every hour of television children watch, they are 8 percent less likely to eat fruit every day, 18 percent more likely to eat candy, and 16 percent more likely to eat fast food.”
The problem with distracted eating can be highlighted in the findings from a review of 24 prior studies by British researchers from the University of Birmingham, published in the April 2014 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which found a similar negative correlation between idle eating and a higher food consumption. In this case, the researchers found that those who were distracted ate more food in the moment. But that’s not all! The researchers also found that distracted eating carried through the day and those individuals consumed 25 percent more food overall. “Some studies have individually shown this before, but the evidence has never been put together,” said lead author Dr. Eric Robinson, from the University of Liverpool, to Mail Online.
What’s the best way to combat idle eating while watching boring television? Opting for healthier snacks. “Use pre-portioned snacks as opposed to endless bowls,” recommends Tal. “If you know you have a tendency to overeat while watching TV, just snack on something that’s better for you. Have veggies as a snack instead of chips.”
Moral of the story? The next time you want to veg out and want to binge-watch back-to-back episodes of a mind-numbing TV show, be sure to grab some fruits and veggies instead of chips and cookies.