It is no secret that TV viewing encourages mindless snacking, but it turns out that this effect may be particularly pronounced when it comes to watching certain types of shows. A new study has found that people watching a Hollywood action movie ate twice the amount of snacks as those watching an interview program.
The study, published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association: Internal Medicine, included 94 undergraduate students who were split in three groups to watch 20 minutes of TV. Each group was randomly assigned to watch either an excerpt from "The Island," an action flick starring Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson; an identical excerpt from "The Island" but without the sound; or the interview program "The Charlie Rose Show."
The participants were provided with M&Ms, cookies, carrots and grapes to snack on while watching the shows. The investigators weighed the snacks before and after the initial part of the experiment to see how much the people in each group had eaten.
The researchers found that people who watched the action movie with sound on ate 206.5 grams of food -- almost twice as much as those watching the interview program, who ate 104.3 grams.
Interestingly, even the people who watched the action movie with no sound ate 142.1 grams food -- 36 percent more than the people who watched the interview show.
"We find that if you're watching an action movie while snacking your mouth will see more action too!" study author Aner Tal, a post-doctoral research associate in the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University, said in a statement.
People who watched the action movie also consumed more calories. "The Island" viewers consumed 354 calories (314 calories in the group with no sound), compared with 215 calories in the group that watched the Charlie Rose show.
What is it about action movies that makes viewers snack more?
"More stimulating programs that are fast paced, include many camera cuts, really draw you in and distract you from what you are eating," Tal said. "They can make you eat more because you're paying less attention to how much you are putting in your mouth."
Fortunately, there are things you can do to avoid overeating during your favorite action scene. For instance, pre-plating or pre-portioning your TV snacks is a better idea than bringing out a whole bag of chips or box of cookies, the researchers said.
Study coauthor Brian Wansink, a professor and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, recommended sticking with healthy snacks such as carrots. "The good news is that action movie watchers also eat more healthy foods, if that's what's in front of them," Wasnik said. "Take advantage of this!"