How many hours of TV do you watch per week? I’m a slave to my DVR, which allows me to catch favorites like “Glee” (I’m a super Gleek) and guilty pleasures such as “The Bachelorette” (don’t judge) long after primetime has passed, once I’ve returned home from board meetings and tennis matches, for example. (I’ve still got the entire last season of “Lost” saved for future viewing. Please, no spoilers!) Between morning views of the “Today” show and flips to “The Weather Channel,” late-night movies and other DVR stores, it’s hard for me to say just how much TV I’m watching, not to mention what kind of effect it’s having on me.
One of the best parts of DVR is that it allows you skip past commercials, which can turn 40 minutes of actual entertainment into a 60-minute stretch of programming. But not everyone has the ability to record TV for later viewing. And some, dare I say it, actually enjoy watching paid advertisements (including those lengthy “made for TV” infomercials hawking mineral makeup, skincare products and the ubiquitous Snuggie).
Of course, many of those ads are for food.
It’s said that you are what you eat. But what would you be if you ate what you saw … on TV? A new study featured in the June issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association ( www.adajournal.org) reveals that American television, in particular, may be a contributing factor when it comes to obesity.
Okay, so this may not be earth-shattering news. We all know that figurative “couch potatoes” may turn into literal ones, should they overindulge in the laziest of American pastimes. But it’s not just that the act of watching TV could result in less physical activity and more snacking. It could actually be what you’re viewing.
According to the aforementioned study, “televised food advertisements, which encourage viewers to eat the foods promoted for sale, constitute a de facto set of dietary endorsements.”
When researchers compared the nutritional content of food choices endorsed on TV to actual nutritional guidelines, the findings were staggering.
“Using a cross-sectional design, food advertisements were observed during 84 hours of primetime and 12 hours of Saturday-morning televised broadcast during the fall of 2004,” the study explains; results suggest that “a diet consisting of observed food items would provide 2,560% of the recommended daily servings for sugars, 2,080% of the recommended daily servings for fat, 40% of the recommended daily servings for vegetables, 32% of the recommended daily servings for dairy, and 27% of the recommended daily servings for fruits.”
Furthermore, said diet “would substantially oversupply protein, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, while substantially undersupplying carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins A, E, and D, pantothenic acid, iron, phosphorous, calcium, magnesium, copper, and potassium,” it reports.
Stop the presses. That’s even worse than I would have thought. Is there really that little nutritional value to American TV? Just how many fast-food advertisements are aired in any given day? What about those “Drink Milk” and “Power of Cheese” campaigns? Or those ads promoting whole grain and fiber? I guess healthier commercials from associations pale in comparison to the number of spots reserved for industry giants like Burger King and mouthwatering chains such as Sonic, not to mention manufacturers of beverages, candy and snacks (seriously, I’m not going to mention them.)
Commercials aside, I wonder about actual programming. If one watches too much of the Food Network, for example, is he or she more likely to cook fatty comfort foods like Paula Deen or eat at more greasy-spoon roadside diners like Guy Fieri? (That said, he or she might also be more likely to cook light like Ellie Krieger … here’s hopin’.)
Science isn’t my strong suit, but I’m sure there’s some link -- a cause and effect, if you will -- between what you watch and what you eat, even if it is subconscious. That relationship may be good (preparing lower-fat desserts) or bad (investing in a deep fryer). But it’s one worth exploring for advertisers and TV networks as well consumers, especially those with children who are easily influenced to demand a cheeseburger at the mere mention or sight of one onscreen.
I’m sure Michelle Obama would have a few words to say on this subject.
As for me, I look forward to more studies on the TV/nutrition front. I also look forward to next week’s “Glee” finale, which I will no doubt record for later viewing, sans commercials. Who knew technology might save us from consuming extra calories? Now if only it could stop me from watching “The Bachelorette” …