Watching TV and Obesity: Is There A Link?

Why Watching TV Could Make You Fat?

1. You Eat Junk – Food Commercials Promote Unhealthy Eating

The potential impact of advertising is phenomenal. Advertising, especially TV commercials, are so influential that there are regulations for how companies campaign during election season, what can be advertised during children’s programs, etc. The regulations are imposed because advertisements are extremely powerful in influencing people’s decisions.

If you see an advertisement on television for food, chances are it’s not going to be promoting eating spinach. Typically, within one hour of television watching you will be exposed to approximately at least 10 food and beverage commercials. Given that commercials have a great impact on people, this is a lot of food exposure.When we are constantly bombarded with images of food that aren’t good for us but oh-so-tasty, we begin to crave those foods. Those cravings turn into snacking in front of the television or going out to buy the advertised food, which means consuming calories you don’t need.

2. You Eat More – Watching TV Increases Your Energy Intake

In a study of 78 mostly female undergraduate students, eating behavior was examined in relation to television viewing. The study compared days when women ate meals while watching television to days when eating occurred without television. Interestingly, participants ate more on TV days. Specifically, on the days with television viewing, the participants ate an extra meal, which significantly increased their total daily calorie intake.

There is a reason why we have the propensity to eat more while we are watching television. TV has a way of distracting us, especially when we’re really absorbed in a good program. When we are munching and watching TV at the same time, we do not necessarily pay attention to what we are doing; overeating is common. Eating when you’re not hungry is common.

Since TV distracts us, we tend to bypass our habitual dietary restraints and keep eating. “Watching TV draws attention away from the eaten food and can stimulate food consumption”, explains professor Marion M. Hetherington of the department of psychology of Glasgow Caledonian University.

A lot of people will eat out of habit, simply because they always eat while watching TV. Sometimes people eat to occupy their hands and mouth. Whatever the reason, because we get distracted in front of the TV, we’re not consciously making decisions about the food we put into our mouths.

One particular study observed 48 women and revealed their eating habits when they ate in front of a TV. The participants were served 4 lunch meals and instructed to eat two of them in a quiet room with no TV or any other distraction. The other two meals were to be eaten in a room while watching television. Not surprisingly, women consumed 13.4% more calories in the presence of a TV.

3. You Spend Less Energy – Being a TV Couch Potato Doesn’t Burn Calories

Metabolism is the process by which your body converts the food you consume into energy. To lose weight, you must burn more calories than the amount of energy you burn, thereby creating a deficit of calories. Television viewing does not help you create this deficit. This is because television increases inactivity and lowers your metabolic rate.

Interestingly, one study showed that watching TV for one day results in burning more than 200 fewer calories than simply lying on your bed without watching TV.

Sitting or lying on the couch with your eyes fixed on a television screen doesn’t exactly burn a lot of calories. People who tend to watch a lot of TV every day usually don’t squeeze in the time to exercise. But even if you can manage to juggle your TV time with exercise, the fact remains that people tend to eat in front of the TV, and it’s that kind of unhealthy snacking that packs on the calories, and consequently contributes to weight gain.

4. You Consume More Food at Subsequent Meals

Eating isn’t just a problem while you are watching TV, but rather it can extend beyond TV viewing hours. Television viewing is associated with an increase in eating during meals that follow. One study specifically found that television watching during lunch time increases afternoon snack intake. This increases the overall daily calorie intake, which, when combined with the lower metabolic rate that results from watching TV, leads to weight gain.

According to researchers, eating more at subsequent meals after television viewing may be attributed to the distractibility caused by TV. Individuals who watch TV and eat at the same time find it hard to recall later what they ate and how much they consumed.

Women in that study ate lunch either quietly, or with a TV program on. Three hours later, they were then asked to rate how much they could recall about the lunch they had eaten. The women who watched TV while they ate their lunch were not able to recall as many details about their lunch. Memory is definitely hindered when watching television.

This is important, because researchers believe that remembering what we eat has an impact on how much we eat later on. If it has been registered in our memory that we snacked a few hours ago, we will be less inclined to continue snacking later on. A good example of how memory affects eating behavior is this: an amnesiac who is offered a sequence of meals tends to overeat compared to a person with normal memory capabilities. Researchers believe that remembering the quantity of what we ate is important for portion control during subsequent meals.

Matthew Papa

Matthew, PhD, is a biology scientist and former research fellow at Washington University in Saint Louis, MO. He closely follows the research findings in the field of nutrition, diet and weight loss and enjoys writing relevant articles that present newsworthy information. In his blog, he reviews some clinically studied weight loss programs and offers a discount promotion for Weight Watchers

8 thoughts on “Watching TV and Obesity: Is There A Link?

  • April 8, 2011 at 11:37 am

    Can anyone doubt that sitting in front of the tv watching others live their lives can be a substitute for living our own?

    Of COURSE tv is not good for our weight!

  • October 24, 2010 at 2:46 am

    Oh quite a nice post Matthew. How about turning to some other channel at the time of commercials .. Unless the other channel also shows commercials at the same time.. hehe.. Great outlook overall and quite comprehensive. Thanks.

  • October 23, 2010 at 2:13 am

    Thanks Jarret,
    This is true for excessive computer use, too.

    According to Dr Shi’s paper published last month:

    “Excessive recreational computer use independently predicts undesirable eating behaviors that could lead to overweight and obesity.


  • October 22, 2010 at 7:28 pm

    Great post Matthew! Most people probably are not cognizant of the effects of watching TV while they eat.

  • October 21, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    Also, television viewing time has been associated with increased risk of all-cause and CVD mortality. (Dunstan et al, 2010. Thank you for this addition, editor.

    • January 14, 2011 at 3:13 am

      Is there any study that reported negetive or no relation between Tv watching and obesity.

  • October 21, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    Fantastic post! Interesting that overeating also occurs at subsequent meals.
    This would make anyone think twice about regular t.v dinners. Thanks


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