Watching scary films can make a person reach for fattier foods and gain weight, research has found.
A horror film with violence was proven to increase stress, nerves and exhaustion in study participants.
But viewers of a romantic comedy or narrative film did not show the same emotional response – and did not reach for as many tasty snacks such as crisps and chocolate.
Viewers may comfort eat more as a way of dampening the stress triggered by the film, scientists said.
It’s the first study to look into the effect of a film on our food choices and appetite, after previous studies have linked violent video games to an increase in appetite.
The findings suggest it’s not just sedentary screen viewing that leads to weight gain, but what is shown on the screen, too.
Watching scary films can make a person reach for fattier foods to comfort their nerves and therefore gain weight, a study by Lebanese researchers has found
The study, conducted by Lebanese American University, involved 84 participants aged between 20 and 30 who were randomly assigned to either watch a violent movie or a romantic comedy.
Before the study, various measurements were taken including their heart rate, blood pressure and grip strength, and their stress perception and appetite were assessed.
Movie watchers were provided with a tray containing snacks that were decided by the researchers as being fatty, salty or sugary, including popcorn, crisps, biscuits, chocolate, sweets, apples, orange juice and Pepsi.
The participants were told they could eat whatever they wanted, and were left alone and unobserved during the film to get comfortable.
DOES TIME IN FRONT OF THE TV RAISE HEALTH RISKS?
Sedentary behaviour and lack of exercise is associated with poor health outcomes. Some recent studies have found that:
- Sitting in front of the TV for as little as one hour a day can increase your risk of bowel cancer: A study led by Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School found that those who lazed in front of the TV for two hours a day or more had nearly a 70 per cent increased risk.
- Children with a TV in their room are more likely to be obese: Portuguese scientists analysed the lifestyles and habits of 120 girls aged between four and six by quizzing their parents. They found girls with TVs in their bedrooms were three times more likely to be overweight than their peers without the luxury. And the risk of obesity was four times higher, according to the study.
- Watching TV is more of a risk factor for obesity than any other sedentary activity: Watching TV puts children at the greatest risk of obesity in comparison to other downtime activities, a study by the University of South Australia found. Whether the child is playing video games, is eating, or on a computer has more of an impact on their weight than the duration of their sitting time, it claimed.
After, the experimental group, who had watched the violent film, had higher scores for nervousness, exhaustion and sadness, but the control group, who watched the romantic comedy, had no differences.
Neither group’s participants showed differences in their appetite or hunger levels compared to the start of the film, according to the findings published in Eating Behaviours.
But the experimental group had eaten more while watching the film, with an average of 6.45 food items compared to 4.93 in the control group.
The authors, led by Dr Lama Mattar, said: ‘Our results reported that violent movies had an acute stressful and intense effect on the spectators, even though watching a movie is a passive activity.
‘Participants in the experimental group scored higher on the nervousness and exhaustion subscales compared to baseline scores, whereas controls did not show any increase in these scores.’
Out of the 42 participants in the experimental group 62 per cent consumed more than two fatty items and 71.4 per cent consumed more than two salty food items. No significant difference in the consumption of sugary items was observed between the two groups.
‘This result implies that weight gain and obesity associated with screen time may not only be attributed to the fact that it is a sedentary activity but also to an associated increase in energy-dense snacking,’ the authors said.
An explanation for the heavy snacking could be that tasty food is known to dampen the stress response and promote positive emotions, such as a sense of security and well being, the authors said.
‘Subjects who have been exposed to a violent movie may be driven toward fatty and salty items in order to dampen the stress that was triggered by the movie.’
Generally, chronic life stress ‘could also increase preference for energy- and nutrient-dense foods or what we call comfort food.’
‘On the other hand, some studies have demonstrated that the increased auditory stimulation, tempo and rhythm of music which are characteristic of violent movies might have an effect on food choice and intake, by making the spectator choose less healthy options,’ the study said.
It is believed by the researchers that this is the first study to investigate the acute effect of violent content in movies on food intake, food choices and appetite.
At a time when the Government is attempting to tackle childhood obesity, the authors believe their research highlights some key issues.
They said: ‘Addressing this issue and its implication in children is a must. This could be done through public health interventions that tackle movie content.’
Previous studies have found that video game playing, an activity that needs participation, effects heart rate, blood pressure and general cardiovascular health, and increases appetite compared to watching TV.
But a study by the University of South Australia found the opposite in children – TV viewing had more of an impact on the waistline than any other behaviour.