While many studies have linked high levels of TV viewing to poorer dietary habits and increased snacking of ‘junk foods’, a new study from researchers at the University of Houston has gone further by suggesting that people who watch excessive amounts of TV might not understand the foundations of a healthy diet.
"A number of previous studies found a relationship between TV use in terms of the number of hours watched per day and unhealthy food consumption," said Professor Temple Northup, who led the study.
"There was very little prior research on the psychological reasons this relationship might exist beyond that it's a sedentary activity that encourages snacking," he said "I wanted to investigate underlying psychological reasons that this relationship might exist."
The study, published in the International Journal of Communication and Health, reveals that people who watch more TV had both a poorer understanding of proper nutrition and a ‘more fatalistic’ view toward eating well compared to those who watched less TV.
“In turn, those two items predicted snacking behaviors," Northup explained. "It is important to understand how people develop knowledge about nutrition, including examining nutritional messages found within the media."
In a review of the cancer prevention studies, Northup and his colleagues found that people who adopt a fatalistic view towards cancer - a view that it is too difficult to understand causes of cancer well enough to do anything about it - tend to have lower self-efficacy toward reducing risky behaviours that may cause cancer.
In the context of TV use and unhealthy eating, he believed that those with a more fatalistic view toward eating well tend to eat more snack foods. For example, if these individuals think nutrition is too difficult to understand, they will probably give up trying to eat well, he said.
Indeed, Northup suggests that because consumers are ‘inundated’ with advertising for unhealthy food and messages about the latest trends in what you should (or shouldn't) eat, they develop these poor attitudes toward and knowledge about eating well.
The Huston-based researcher conducted a cross-sectional survey of 591 participants that measured a number of parameters, including: 'fatalistic view toward eating well', 'nutritional knowledge', 'television and news media usage' and 'nutritional intake.'
Such a research model is based on similar measures that look at cancer prevention, said Northup.
According to the findings, general television use was associated with both the development of fatalistic views toward eating healthy and poor nutritional knowledge, whereas television news use was only associated with fatalistic views.
“Given the conflicting messages about food presented within entertainment, advertising, and the news media, it is not surprising that heavy users develop these attitudes,” wrote the researcher. “After all, on the one hand, heavy users are told to eat a lot of sugary drinks and snacks, while on the other, they are told to avoid those snacks in favour of a variety of other foods.”
“If all messages being presented conflict, it becomes hard to decipher exactly what should be followed. This could lead to the belief that it is just not possible to fully understand nutrition,” he suggested.
Source: International Journal of Communication and Health
“Understanding the Relationship Between Television Use and Unhealthy Eating: The Mediating Role of Fatalistic Views of Eating Well and Nutritional Knowledge”
Author: Temple Northup
Available online at http://communicationandhealth.ro/upload/number3/TEMPLE-NORTHUP.pdf