Popular TV shows don't always spotlight healthy foods. In fact, most hit food and cooking shows commonly expose us to decadent, tantalizing dishes that may be tempting us to eat more junk food. Instead of these foodie shows inspiring us to cook more, they may simply be enticing us to eat more.
Researchers at the Department of Psychology at Hobart and William Smith Colleges sought to examine whether there was any effect that food-related television shows had on eating behaviors. The study, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal Appetite, involved 80 adults divided into two groups. Half of the participants were asked to watch 10 minutes of a cooking show and the other half were asked to watch 10 minutes of a nature documentary. Afterwards, all participants were given three bowls of carrots, cheese curls, and chocolate-covered sweets and were told they could eat whatever amount they wanted of each during a 10-minute time period.
Researchers weighed the food before and after to calculate how much each person consumed. What they found was that the participants who watched the cooking shows ate larger quantities of chocolate-covered sweets (approximately 40 calories more) than study participants who watched the nature documentary. The study subjects who watched the nature documentary consumed more raw carrots. However, the overall calorie consumption of the two groups was about the same. So, although the total calorie consumption was similar, the types of food eaten differed.
This study, while very interesting, does have its limitations. The study participants were not blinded to the intention of the study, meaning their knowledge of the reason for the study could have influenced the study results. Additionally, the participants only viewed the TV shows for 10 minutes, which is not a realistic representation of how much time people typically spend watching a TV show. Lastly, the participants had limited options for snacks (only three available) and they could only snack after watching TV and not while watching TV. Researchers did admit that more studies needed to be done that followed more realistic TV watching and snacking situations.
The Bottom Line
While there isn't enough hard evidence yet proving that exposure to the recipes demonstrated on television shows actually causes us to reach for unhealthy foods, it's definitely an area that calls for more research, especially given the exponential growth of food-related programming. In the meantime, enjoy watching Paula Deen drench everything in fat on TV--just don't let it entice you to start frying sticks of butter in your own kitchen.
Kari Hartel, RD, LD is a Registered, Licensed Dietitian and freelance writer based out of St. Louis, MO. Kari is passionate about nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease through a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Kari holds a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Southeast Missouri State University and is committed to helping people lead healthy lives. She completed a yearlong dietetic internship at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, IL, where she worked with a multitude of clients and patients with complicated diagnoses. She planned, marketed, and implemented nutrition education programs and cooking demonstrations for the general public as well as for special populations, including patients with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, obesity, and school-aged children. If you would be interested in working with Kari one-on-one, sign-up for FitDay Dietitian.