Action Packed Shows May Make You Eat More

Aner Tal, PhD Food and Brand Lab Department of Applied Economics and Management Cornell University, Ithaca, New Interview with:
Aner Tal, PhD
Food and Brand Lab
Department of Applied Economics and Management
Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

Medical Research: What are the main findings of the study?

Dr. Tal: Some TV programs might lead people to eat twice as much as other programs.

“We find that if you’re watching an action movie while snacking your mouth will see more action too!” says Aner Tal, Ph.D. lead author on the new article just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association: Internal Medicine. “In other words, the more distracting the program is the more you will eat.” In the study 94 undergraduates snacked on M&Ms, cookies, carrots and grapes while watching 20 minutes of television programming. A third of the participants watched a segment of the action movie The Island, a third watched a segment from the talk show, the Charlie Rose Show, and a third watched the same segment from The Island without sound. “People who were watching The Island ate almost twice as many snacks – 98% more than those watching the talk show!” says co-author Brian Wansink, author of Slim by Design (forthcoming) and Professor and Director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab. “Even those watching “The Island” without sound ate 36% more.” People watching the more distracting content also consumed more calories, with 354 calories consumed by those watching The Island (314 calories with no sound) compared to 215 calories consumed by those watching the Charlie Rose 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 Tal. Because of this, programs that engage viewers more might wind up being worse for their diets.

Medical Research: What was most surprising about the results?

Dr. Tal: That even without sound more engaging TV content can lead people to eat more. This is relevant to many settings where people are exposed to TV programming without sound, for instance casual dining restaurants or bars where the TV is playing in the background with no sound. We were also surprised that people seemed to eat more of what’s in front of them across the board, regardless of what food it was. Greater distraction increased healthier as well as less healthy snacking.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Tal: Pre-plating or pre-portioning your TV snacks instead of bringing out a whole bag of chips or box of cookies is a good solution.  The best solution is to bring out the healthy munchable snacks, like carrots. The good news is that action movie watchers also eat more healthy foods, if that’s what’s in front of them.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Tal: We are currently pursuing several different avenues to explore how different distractions affect consumption. Perhaps the chief thing we want to understand is what exactly is the process leading to increased consumption – is it objective characteristics of the programming, for instance increased visual cuts and faster pace, or subjective involvement with the TV programs. We also wish to understand what physical processes might be involved. For instance, we know there is a relation between adrenaline and eating, so it could be that increased adrenaline secretion due to an action movie can contribute to increased eating.


Tal A, Zuckerman S, Wansink B. Watch What You Eat: Action-Related Television Content Increases Food Intake. JAMA Intern Med. Published online September 01, 2014. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.4098.