Watch what you watch! Effects of seeing unhealthy food cues on television

Published April 5th 2019 – On a daily basis we are exposed to a variety of tasty, but unhealthy foods on TV, varying from cooking shows and contests to commercials for indulging chocolate and ice cream. In a recently published study, Monique Alblas and colleagues (University of Amsterdam) found that exposure to these tasty but unhealthy foods in cooking shows may temporarily activate a goal to eat such foods in the mind of viewers, particularly in dieters who report to be rather unsuccessful in their dieting attempts.

In a set of three experiments, participants were asked to watch TV: half of the participants watched food-related TV (food commercials or a cooking show), the other half watched neutral, non-food related TV. Subsequently, it was measured how accessible people’s goal was to eat tasty, but unhealthy foods. Participants did not show a stronger goal to consume tasty foods after watching food commercials. However, after watching a cooking show, compared to a non-food TV show, participants’ goal to eat tasty foods was temporarily more accessible. This was in particular the case for “unsuccessful dieters”: chronic dieters who report to be unsuccessful in their dieting attempts. Successful dieters on the other hand showed less accessibility of this goal after seeing the cooking show.

Thus, especially unsuccessful dieters seem to be sensitive to seeing unhealthy food cues in cooking shows. As an accessible goal (in this case the goal to eat tasty food) may lead to behaviour in line with this goal, watching a cooking show may result in increased food intake for these unsuccessful dieters. As no such effects on goal accessibility were found after seeing the food commercials, the type of TV content might also play a role in the effects of watching food-related TV.

Read more? Alblas, M. C.,Mollen, S., Fransen, M. L., & van den Putte, B. (2019). Watch what you watch: The effect of exposure to food-related television content on the accessibility of a hedonic eating goal. Appetite, 134, 204–211.

Click here for full paper.