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Comment & Response
March 2015

Television Watching and Effects on Food Intake: Distress vs Eustress

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Neuroscience, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden
JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(3):468. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.7874

To the Editor In the September issue of JAMA Internal Medicine, we read with great interest the article by Tal et al.1 In this study, the authors demonstrated that students watching an action movie ate significantly more than the group that watched an interview program. This effect was seen for both sexes. However, a previous study from our group demonstrated that female students ate less grams when watching a comedy program compared with food intake when watching a television (TV) documentary (+52% increase).2 In our view, one reason for these discrepant results between our study and the study by Tal et al1 might be differences in the emotional content of the presented TV program. Previous studies have shown that humans who play violent video games show clear signs of distress (ie, negative stress), comprising higher blood pressure as well as reports of less fullness and a tendency to prefer sweet food.3 With this result in mind, it could be hypothesized that watching scenes of an action movie may cause distress, a condition that can increase food intake in the absence of hunger.4 In contrast, watching an engaging comedy clip has been linked with decreasing tiredness, sadness, irritation, anxiety, and restlessness, while increasing relaxation and joy.5 Thus, watching a comedy clip may cause eustress (ie, positive stress), which, owing to its high rewarding property, may reduce an individual’s concomitant drive to eat. Taken together, when interpreting the study findings by Tal et al,1 it must be borne in mind that the way TV watching affects short-term food intake in humans may depend on the emotional content of the TV program that they watch. Despite that, it must be mentioned that watching television is typically a sedentary activity, and as such—independent of the TV program’s content—may shift an individual’s energy balance toward energy surplus.

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