Based on many studies, we know that the amount of TV people watch and the amount they weigh are connected: people who are overweight often lead more sedentary lives and watch more TV. But we’ve never considered if the TV content itself affects the amount and type of food they eat. Until now.

Researchers at the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab evaluated the amount of food people ate when they watched different types of TV shows. They observed a group of 94 undergraduate students (57 female and 37 male) around 20 years old. The researchers assembled them into groups of 20 and randomly assigned them to watch 20 minutes of 1 of 3 shows. The different shows were the action-movie “The Island,” either with sound or without, or the talk show “The Charlie Rose Show.”

Each group had a plentiful array of snacks available to them of M&Ms, cookies, carrots and grapes, and was invited to eat as much as they wanted.

The results found that those watching the action movie ate 98% more food and 65% more calories than those who watched the talk show. The group who watched the silent version of “The Island” ate 36% more food and 46% more calories than those who watched the talk show.

“More stimulating programs that are fast paced, include many camera cuts, really draw you in and distract you from what you are eating. They can make you eat more because you're paying less attention to how much you are putting in your mouth,” explains Aner Tal, PhD, one of the main authors of the study. He comically labels the study “Action TV is Fat TV” in the video posted on Cornell’s website.

The Takeaway

What we can learn from this is to think before we snack while watching TV or a movie. If you’re planning on watching “Star Wars” or “Spider-Man,” don’t bring a huge bowl of popcorn with you to the couch. Practice healthy eating habits by eating natural sweets like oranges or pears while watching a movie. Or practice good portion control by bringing a small bowl of ice cream or chips into your TV lair.

To learn more about healthy food choices:

Super Foods for Diabetes
The 15 Benefits of High-Fiber Foods
Top Nutrients for Diabetics in Their 40s and 50s