Experts advise against snacking while watching TV. Why? Because we often do so mindlessly, and before you know it, that whole bag of potato chips (which was full just moments ago) is empty. This has been observed time and time again and is widely known by many, but it’s not the only correlation between snacking and media use. New research shows that media multitasking can have a significant impact on snacking habits as well.

This study “Screen overload: Pleasant multitasking with screen devices leads to the choice of healthful over less healthful snacks when compared with unpleasant multitasking” observed how using multiple screen devices while snacking would affect an individual’s food choices. Overall, they found that when people engage in media multitasking in a way that makes them feel good, they’re more likely to make healthier snack choices.

To reach these findings, researchers from Michigan State University recruited 140 participants and assigned them to one of four combinations of media tasks: watching TV; watching TV while texting; watching TV, texting, reading an article online and answering a quiz; or watching TV, texting, and shopping online all at once. These subjects all watched an episode of “Two and a Half Men,” of which did not have any food or eating scenes. Additionally, the commercials were also free of any food and eating, as to avoid an influence on eating behaviors.

All of the participants were given a choice of healthy snacks (almonds, grape tomatoes, and carrots) and unhealthy snacks (potato chips, chocolates, and candy). The researchers analyzed these decisions and found that the participants assigned to the least enjoyable combination of media tasks—the third scenario, which involved watching TV, texting, reading an article, and taking a quiz—ate 32% more unhealthy snacks than healthy ones. Generally speaking, these individuals snacked on two unhealthy foods and one healthy. In comparison, the group assigned to the fourth combination—in which they watched TV, texted, and shopped online—chose 26% more healthy snacks.

Anastasia Kononova, lead author and an assistant professor in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations, explains why these participants were swayed in one direction or another: “Media multitasking can affect the rationalization process. Our main finding was that people like some media multitasking situations and hate others. And, when using multiple screens makes people feel stressed or overwhelmed, they eat worse.”

This study furthers claims that media use can have a substantial effect on one’s diet—however, it does not support claims that media use always has a negative effect on one’s diet. In fact, certain media multitasking can have a positive effect on your diet instead. “Not every form of multitasking seems to be harmful for one’s diet,” Kononova explains. “If you enjoy using multiple screens together, it might actually help your food choices.”

Sources:
Michigan State University (2018, March 19). Multiple Screen Use Affects Snack Choices. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved March 19, 2018 from http://neurosciencenews.com/snacking-screens-8663/

Kononova, A., McAlister, A., Oh, H. J. (2018, March). Screen overload: Pleasant multitasking with screen devices leads to the choice of healthful over less healthful snacks when compared with unpleasant multitasking. Retrieved March 19 from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563217306179