Dinner TV

Just How Bad Are Those TV Dinners?

Here’s a bit of simple advice for eating healthy. Don’t eat in front of the TV. The advice is simple enough. But reality is not so simple. In a new study, Holly Raynor and Rachel Rosenthal found – to their surprise – that watching TV during a meal did not lead people to eat more. Maybe those TV dinners won’t make you fat after all.

Or maybe, like so many other things related to obesity, it’s just not a simple as we want it to be.

A Surprising Result

Prior to this research, plenty of other studies showed that people eat more when they’re watching TV. But all of that research was a bit different from the carefully controlled study that Raynor and Rosenthal conducted.

Prior research had all been snack foods. Raynor and Rosenthal fed their subjects a meal – macaroni and cheese with a salad on the side.

In other studies, the allotted time was not controlled. Raynor and Rosenthal allotted 30 minutes for the meal. They also controlled the content of the programming to exclude food cues.

So maybe snacking in front of the TV is the real problem, not eating a meal. Or maybe lingering over food and TV is it. And then again, it could be the food cues you see on TV. Maybe the issue is a combination of those things.

But one thing is clear. This question is not so simple as the glib advice that pops up everywhere.

An Easy Target

Chowing down in front of the TV is an obnoxious habit. So desirability bias creeps into the way we view the facts of this matter. Who is going to defend an uncouth behavior?

But the fact is that people also eat more when they eat with others. And nobody is warning us of the dangers of sharing a meal with others. “Avoid meals with other people” is advice that would be rejected out of hand. So it never comes up.

The real point here is that we must think critically and question our biases. Bias is everywhere because we’re human. Presumptions help us navigate the world, but they can get in the way of solving problems.

So surprises are an opportunity for learning, and that’s just what we have in this new paper by Raynor and Rosenthal. Click here to read it.

Dinner TV, photograph © Raul Lieberwirth / flickr

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July 8, 2017