The Mindless Gobble: The Influence of Media on Obesity



Executive Summary

Watching television and other substitutional screens such as iPads, tablets, and smartphones in excess have been the driving force for obesity, in addition to over-consumption of food. This lifestyle change has been significant in the lives of young adults. Research indicates that many young adults watch entertainment food shows and videos such as MasterChef, Binging with Babish, Buzzfeed Tasty videos, et cetera and experience cravings. Thus, they indulge in high quantities of energy-dense food such as chips and chocolates to satiate these cravings, causing obesity. Therefore, this article aims to identify the impact of food-related videos and shows on eating behaviour and food cravings among young adults.


Introduction

The American Medical Association has recognised obesity as a complex and chronic disease that requires medical attention. According to Cecchiniet and Vetter, obesity is a significant health concern associated with increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, as well as decreased quality of life and life expectancy. The World Health Organization views being overweight as over 25 Body Mass Index and obese as over 30.

The fundamental cause of obesity is an energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended. Globally, there has been an increased intake of energy-dense foods, high in fat and sugars, and increased physical inactivity due to the sedentary nature of many forms of work, changing modes of transportation, and urbanisation. Thus, it has become crucial to understand, address and overcome the obesity epidemic. Shammi Luhar, in his research paper, Forecasting the Prevalence of Overweight and Obesity in India by 2040, showcases the evidence that presents obesity as a major health and social issue for India; the data reveals that 27.8% of all Indians would be overweight, and 5.0% obese by 2030. Moreover, according to the survey conducted by the Statista Research Department, young adults of the country, that is to say, people between the age group of 18 to 24, are most affected by obesity.


What is Sedentary Behaviour?

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare in 2017 defined obesity as "excessive fat accumulation due to a sustained energy imbalance. It is when energy intake through eating and drinking is more than energy expended through physical activity." In other words, obesity occurs when the reliance on sedentary behaviour is high. Authors Pate, Mitchell, Byun, and Dowda define sedentary behaviour ''as low energy expenditure which predominantly involves sitting or lying in a reclining position." They further explain that young adults tend to spend more time in sedentary behaviour because of the high accessibility of televisions, computers, iPads, and

smartphones. Thus, putting them at a higher risk of being overweight or obese. Furthermore, the outbreak of COVID-19 has caused a further upsurge in the sedentary behaviour among young adults as it caused them to engage in remote working, social distancing, and self-isolating, hindering their regular routines and eliminating whatever activity they did as a part of it.


Binge-Watching & Binge Eating

According to Danner, 2008; Gore, Foster, DiLillo, Kirk, & West, 2003 (as cited in Bodenlos & Wormuth, 2012, p. 8), there is a direct relationship between increased screen time and obesity. Moreover, young adults spending 39.45 hours a month on a video screen (Chester, 2016), which puts them at a higher risk of obesity in the future. One such study is by Bodenlos, and Wormuth called Watching Food-related Television Show and Caloric Intake. A laboratory study in 2012 confirmed this notion as the study showcased that chocolate-covered candies were highly consumed by more than 70% of the sample population, which comprised of young women between the ages 18-22 who watched the cooking program compared to the nature program (2012, p.10).


Analysis

In recent years there has been an explosion of food videos and content on social media. For instance, a brief scroll through Facebook, Tik Tok, Instagram or even YouTube will lead one to encounter mouth-watering food-related content. One of the most significant contributors to such content is Buzzfeed's Tasty. It is the fastest-growing food channel on social media which churns out content every day and garners views in millions. Similarly, there are a plethora of cooking programs available on Indian television dominating the primetime schedules due to the upsurge in the popularity of reality cooking shows like MasterChef Australia, Hell's Kitchen, My Kitchen Rules among the audience members (Stone, 2014). With an Indian spending an average of 9.4 hours (cumulative) in front of a screen daily (Lonergan, 2017, p.5) and even more so during the COVID-19 lockdown, it is difficult for them to overlook the food content available. Thus, making it possible for such shows and videos to impact eating behaviours.


According to the study conducted by Backer & Hudders, "these days people are not merely watching cooking shows to improve their cooking skill, but to enjoy the entertaining TV show." (2015, p.494). In other words, the consumption of cooking shows is mainly for entertainment, rather than the will to learn cooking skills. As a result, to cater to this need, there has been a drift from educational cooking shows to entertainment cooking shows. For instance, the focus is on the competition and the contestants' journey rather than cooking instructions. In addition, entertainment cooking shows make use of the "supernormal stimuli." Coined by Noble Laureate Nikolaas Tinbergen, supernormal stimuli "are unnatural imitations of normal cues which can exert a stronger pull than the real thing." (Barratt, 2010, p.357). For example, the cooking shows and videos make the food look flashier, prettier and captures attention by showing a close-up of the image of a glistening grill-marked burger that oozes cheese (Romm, 2015). The "supernormal stimuli" in cooking shows often act as visual cues or conditioned stimuli that easily trigger cue reactivity. Thus, leading to food cravings (Jansen, Havermans & Nederkoom,2011, p1432).


According to Hill (as cited in Mansilla, Perkins & Ebrahimi), food cravings refer to a strong desire to eat a specific food. Contrary to hunger, which is usually more of a generic feeling (eating anything will satiate), cravings are specific."

Cravings are independent of hunger. The items desired are specific. They further explained that "food cravings are linked to the episodes of desire where the conscious mental imagery of desired activity triggers immediate feelings of relief or pleasure. The absence of the item causes anxiety" (Mansilla et al., 2014, p.194). Moreover, Pelchat, 1997; Weingarten & Elston, 1990; Zellner, Garriga-Trillo, Rohm, Centeno, & Parker, 1999 concurred that the items craved are typically energy-dense because they have constituents common to other addictive substances. (as cited in Mansilla et al.p.196)


Lastly, over-consumption of food is considered the driving factor of obesity as it is the intake of vast portions of food high in fats and sugar. Therefore, a show like ''Make it Big'' where the chef makes enormous portions of food such as pizza, pasta, ramen, burger, et cetera can motivate the viewers to indulge in larger portions. Furthermore, these shows do not show the consequences of consuming such food portions, thus encouraging over-consumption.


Conclusion & Future Research

The obesity epidemic is rising within the country, and young adults are the most affected. Food-related videos and shows have affected behavioural eating and cravings among 18-24-year-olds. The findings accumulated showcase the firm grasp of entertainment food videos and show over the educational ones. The article has highlighted the prevalence of ''supernormal stimuli'', which act as food cues for the viewers and lead to carvings. Thus, they often indulge in significant portions of food rich in carbohydrates and fats to satisfy them, resulting in obesity.

Some of the ways the government can fight the epidemic are by making people more aware through campaigns. They can gather social media influencers to help spread the word about a balanced diet. Moreover, social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram can target young adults and make them more aware of the benefits of nutrition and a healthy diet.


Bibliography

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