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Watching television and eating are a deadly duo for people seeking good health. Not only is TV viewing sedentary, but eating while watching tends to be mindless and we consume more without really knowing it.

Now, new research shows there may well be a TV-watching-and-eating triple threat. The type of television programming you choose may also be impacting your waistline, say authors of a research letter published September 1 in JAMA Internal Medicine (doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.4098).

Researchers found that participants who watched an excerpt from a Hollywood action film on television ate a greater volume of snacks than those who watched an interview program.

The authors wanted to know how objective technical characteristics, such as the frequency of visual camera cuts or variations in sound, might influence food consumption. The study included 94 undergraduate students (57 female; mean age nearly 20). The young women gathered in groups to watch 20 minutes of TV and were randomly assigned to one of three different programs: an excerpt from The Island, a Hollywood action movie; the interview program Charlie Rose; or the identical excerpt from The Island, but with no sound.

Viewers snacked on M&Ms, cookies, carrots and grapes while watching. The snacks were weighed before and after the program to track how much viewers had eaten.

Students watching the more distracting program, The Island, with its high number of camera cuts and sound variations, ate 98% more grams of food and 65% more calories than viewers who watched Charlie Rose. Even viewers of the silent version of The Island ate 36% more grams of food and 46% more calories than Charlie Rose viewers.

“More distracting TV content appears to increase food consumption: action and sound variation are bad for one’s diet. The more distracting a TV show, the less attention people appear to pay to eating, and the more they eat,” wrote authors Aner Tal, PhD, MBA, Scott Zuckerman, MD, and Brian Wansink, PhD.

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