Driven to distraction: Low attention to food leads to later snacking

By Nathan Gray contact

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Driven to distraction: Low attention to food leads to later snacking

Related tags: Eating, Food

The amount of attention we pay to our food while eating it has a direct relationship with intakes of food later in the day, according to new research. 

A series of three experiments published in Appetite​ investigated whether the level of attention paid to a meal has any relationship with later food intake after previous reports showed that manipulating attention could affect later consumption.

“The aim of the present studies was to examine the robustness of these effects and investigate moderating factors,”​ explained study author Suzanne Higgs, from the University of Birmingham. “Across three studies, attention to eating was manipulated via distraction (via a computer game or TV watching) or focusing of attention to eating, and effects on subsequent snack consumption and meal memory were assessed."​ 

Higgs found that distraction increased later snack intake and this effect was larger when participants were more motivated to engage with the distracter.

Distraction during eating impaired later meal memory whether it was assessed by serial recall of the order in which foods were eaten or a measure of meal memory vividness,”​ she added.

“However, enhancing attention towards food was not associated with better meal memory as assessed by a rating of memory vividness.”

Study details

In three studies, Higgs tested the effects of attention and later snacking:

The first experiment showed that the effects of distraction during eating were enhanced if there was an incentive to engage with a distracting computer game. 

“There was also a greater effect on meal memory in the incentivised condition than in the non-incentivised condition,”​ said Higgs – adding that the data suggests that greater motivation to engage reduced attention paid to the meal, “which may have resulted in greater later intake and poorer meal memory.”

 A second study tested the distracting effects of TV – finding that the distraction of the TV was offset somewhat when the TV programme contained images of the food being consumed by the participants. 

“One reason for this may be that the food images provided a cue to the participants to focus on their own meal by prompting thoughts and images of the food being eaten, which reduced the impact of TV watching on meal encoding.” 

A third and final study replicated the previously reported findings that focusing on food while eating reduces later snack intake, said Higgs. 

“Participants who were instructed via audio clip to imagine themselves eating the meal ate fewer snacks later than participants who ate without any such instructions,”​ she explained. 

“We further found the effects of imagining eating were reduced if participants imagined eating from a third person perspective.”

Higgs concluded that when taken together, the three experiments suggest ‘consistent and large effects’ of manipulating attention during eating on later intake. 

“The effects are moderate to large and replicable suggesting that they may provide a firm evidence base for the development of interventions aimed at enhancing appetite control,”​ she said.

Source: Appetite
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2015.05.033
“Manipulations of attention during eating and their effects on later snack intake”
Author: Suzanne Higgs

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