Can Watching TV Make You Fat?

The following is an exellent guest post by Matthew Denos, PhD and author of Weight Loss Triumph.

How much time do you spend watching TV? Television viewing is ranking third, after work and sleep, in the list of the most time-consuming activities in the US. With the average US household watching about 8 hours TV a day, Americans are watching more TV than ever before [1].

At the same time, the incidence of obesity has risen sharply in the last 10 years. No wonder we are being called a couch potato-society! But is there an association between these two trends? Is the time you spend in front of the screen increasing your chances of gaining weight? Is it hindering your chaces of living a longer life?

The Association Between TV Viewing And Obesity

Research has shown consistently that TV viewing relates positively to body weight. Passive entertainment through television has been suggested as a contributing factor to the alarming rise in obesity. Risk for overweight is substantially higher among families who watch TV 6 or more hours a day. Even at modest levels of TV watching (1 hour a day) an association with obesity is still noted [2].

The Nurses’ Health Study, which analyzed the sedentary behavior of 50,000 women aged 30 to 55 years, provided strong evidence that prolonged TV watching is directly related to obesity. For each 2-hour/day increase in time spent watching TV, the risk of these women becoming obese increased by 23% [3]. Many studies have confirmed a positive association between TV viewing and body mass index in both children and adults.

Does Watching TV Make You Fat?

Ok, research shows that people who watch TV tend to be overweight. But does this infer causation? Which came first, the obesity or the TV habit? In other words, is it the very act of watching TV that somehow increases your chances of becoming overweight or is it certain aspects of the specific lifestyle of the average heavy TV viewer (i.e unhealthy diet, reduced physical activity) that account for the observed TV-obesity association?

Well, a number of very plausible explanations have been proposed in favor of TV viewing having a causal effect on obesity. First of all, the TV-obesity relation is observed even among people who exercise and lead an overall healthy lifestyle. Stated differently, when diet and exercise habits are factored in, the association between TV viewing and obesity still remains. Therefore, although it is true that those who watch more TV tend to engage in lower levels of vigorous activity, this by itself cannot explain the link between TV viewing and obesity.

How Can TV Sabotage Your Weight Loss Efforts

Here are some mechanisms by which TV viewing can impact on your weight, which do not rely upon TV viewing “displacing” your physical activities.

You Eat More

Eating in front of the TV increases your meal intake especially of sweet, high fat snacks. In a sample of 78 mostly female undergraduate students, eating behavior was compared between days when meals were consumed with the TV on and days when TV was off while eating [4]. Participants ate more often on days when they ate with the TV on—one extra meal—resulting in higher calorie intake, specifically of fat and sugar. The amount eaten was proportional to the time spent in front of the TV.

In a similar study, 48 women were served 4 lunch meals and were instructed to eat two of them in a quite room and the other two while watching TV [5]. The subjects ate 13.4% more calories in the presence of TV. But why is it that you tend to eat more when eating with the TV on?

First, food is widely portrayed on TV. In a typical 1-hour TV segment, you are exposed to approximately 11 food and beverage appetizing commercials. The most heavily promoted foods are high in fat and sugar, a pattern that contradicts the recommendation of the Food Guide Pyramid. In contrast, healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables and complex carbohydrates, are rarely featured.

Second, the attention paid to the TV distracts you from your concurrent eating behavior. It prevents you from listening to your “internal processing food cues” and “exerting your habitual dietary restraint”, researchers note.

You Have A Lower Metabolic Rate

Studies show that when you watch TV you spend less energy than when you rest. If two people were to do nothing but either watch TV or rest without watching TV for a whole day, the one who watches TV would spend 211 fewer calories [6]. Television viewing has a lowering effect on metabolic rate. In fact, when you watch TV you spend almost as much energy as you spend while sleeping.

You Eat More At Subsequent Meals

A recent study showed that the effects of television on food intake extend beyond the time of TV watching to affect later consumption. Specifically, television watching during lunch time increases afternoon snack intake [7].

The participants, 16 normal-weight young women students, consumed a meal either watching a 10 minute video clip played on a TV or in the absence of the clip. The lunch was the same in both situations. Two and a half hours later the participants were given cookies as an afternoon snack and were asked to eat as much as they wished. None of the women were alerted to the purpose of the experiment.

Participants ate more cookies in the afternoon snack following the lunch with TV than following the lunch at which they had not watched TV. Why is it that watching TV while you eat can make you consume more food at a later meal?

Researchers believe that the distraction of your attention away from the meal while watching TV makes it more difficult for you to recall this meal. So, why is that important that you remember your last meal? Studies have shown that how much we eat at a certain meal depends on the information we have in memory about the most recently consumed meal. This also explains why amnesiacs overeat compared to normal people when offered multiple meals.

In the above experiment, the participants were asked to rate how vividly they could remember the lunch that they ate. Interestingly, the women who ate their lunch watching TV had lower vividness of lunch recall than those who ate in the absence of TV.

How Can You Avoid The Fattening Effect of TV Viewing?

Become more active – Reduce TV viewing. The Nurses’ Health Study suggested that 30% of people who are on a trajectory to becoming obese can avoid that by watching less than 10 hours a week TV and taking a brisk walk for a minimum of 30 minutes a day.

Ways to limit TV viewing include removing televisions form your bedroom and kitchen and using devices to limit access. As an adult, by simply substituting 30 minute of TV viewing with slow-paced walking, you will expend energy equivalent to 6.6 lb weight loss over the course of a year.

Avoid Eating While You Watch TV. Separating the acts of television viewing and food consumption will diminish the stimulus effect of TV viewing on eating. Consuming your meal undistracted by TV raises awareness of what is eaten and will make you more sensitive to inhibitory satiating factors. It will also better register the eating event in your memory and help you control later snack intake.


Energy intake has the tendency to increase with longer television viewing. A repeated consumption of meals in the presence of TV can lead to excessive food consumption over a long period of time, and facilitate development of overweight. Reducing the time you spend watching TV, can help you in your weight loss effort by decreasing your overall daily food consumption.

About The Author

Matthew Denos, PhD, is a biology scientist and writer who is concerned about the obesity epidemic. His articles, based on peer-reviewed journals, touch on practical issues related to daily life. His blog, devoted to weight loss program reviews, can be visited at




2. Altering TV viewing habits: an unexplored strategy for adult obesity intervention? Foster JA, Gore SA, West DS. Am J Health Behav. 2006 Jan-Feb;30(1):3-14. Review.

3. Television watching and other sedentary behaviors in relation to risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus in women. Hu FB, Li TY, Colditz GA, Willett WC, Manson JE. JAMA. 2003 Apr 9;289(14):1785-91.

4. Television viewing is associated with an increase in meal frequency in humans. Stroebele N, de Castro JM. Appetite. 2004 Feb;42(1):111-3.

5. Non food-related environmental stimuli induce increased meal intake in healthy women: comparison of television viewing versus listening to a recorded story in laboratory settings. Bellisle F, Dalix AM, Slama G.

6. Effects of television on metabolic rate: potential implications for childhood obesity. Klesges RC, Shelton ML, Klesges LM. Pediatrics. 1993 Feb;91(2):281-6.

7. Television watching during lunch increases afternoon snack intake of young women. Higgs S, Woodward M. Appetite. 2009 Feb;52(1):39-43. Epub 2008 Jul 23.

Heart Attacks May Predict Diabetes

As I’ve often noted on this blog one of the best ways to increase longevity is to minimize the risks for serious causes of death as noted by the CDC. Toping this list is heart attack as I noted in my last post on the common signs of clogged arteries.

Another leader on this list is diabetes however it is notable that most people who have diabetes do not actually die because of it but due to something else which is often affected greatly by the presence of Diabetes.

Predict Diabetes
I recently ran across this interesting article which was just published in the Medical Journal, Diabetes Care, which was based on the 2009 American Diabetes Association (ADA) Scientific Sessions. The article discusses the relationship between heart attacks and diabetes and implies a reasonable way to decrease your risk for having heart attacks or to predict diabetes after a heart attack.

The article notes findings and conclusions from the Steven Haffner’s San Antonio Heart Study which found that people who had heart attacks who had not ever been diagnosed as having diabetes did in fact have diabetes one third of the time and had pre-diabetes another third of the time.

In essence the heart attack was a warning sign or symptom related to an undiagnosed diabetic condition. It was further implied that:

“[cardio vascular disease] prevention might be gained with diabetes prevention. Waist, triglyceride, and fasting glucose were not, but HDL cholesterol, blood pressure, and the presence of diabetes have been shown as predictors of CVD.”

Prevent Diabetes To Prevent Heart Atatcks
What they are saying is that diabetes is a predictor for cardiovascular disease which is the leading cause of death in America. And even in cases where diabetes was never diagnosed prior to a heart attack the patients were at least in pre-diabetes condition at the time of the heart attack. Thus, if you make your emphasis on preventing diabetes you will simultaneously be lowering your risk for heart disease.

“Risk factors for conversion to diabetes were age, obesity, fasting and 2-h glucose, fasting insulin, and, more strongly, insulin sensitivity...”

You can’t do anything about your age but lowering obesity, improving insulin sensitivity, and maintaining a normal blood sugar range is crucial to preventing diabetes and if you do these things then according to this paper you may be decreasing your risk for having a heart attack too which just might help you live longer.

You can see the full paper at Diabetes Care here.

Common Signs Of Clogged Arteries

As I’ve previously noted here on this blog one of the best methods for increasing longevity is to simply look to the leading causes of death in America and see which items on the list you can lower your risk profile for. Considering heart disease is number one on the list I though it might be worth listing off the common signs of clogged arteries to alert you to potential health complications down the road which may hinder your ability to live a longer life.

Just posted the Often Overlooked Blocked Artery Symptoms.

Signs Of Clogged Arteries

First of all, do you know what the common signs and symptoms of clogged arteries are? The most common are fairly easy to remember and most children could probably recite them. Chest pain, tingling in the arm or shoulder, lightheadedness, fatigue and lethargy are some very well known symptoms.

How about some of the lesser known signs of clogged arteries such as dizziness, heart palpitations, nausea, sweating, loss of vision on one side, limb mobility issues, slurring of words, slow healing of foot or ankle injuries, gangrene, cold feet, leg pain, and shortness of breath.

For some reason or another women in particular don’t often follow the classic and well known symptoms of heart attacks so knowing many of these lesser known symptoms of artery blockages may be very important.

Causes And Prevention Of Blocked Arteries

Got Clogged Arteries?
Lowing Your Cholesterol Can Help
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Many of these symptoms are obvious and others aren't so obvious but they all point to one main culprit which tends to be an underlying element of all blocked artery symptoms - cholesterol. Excess cholesterol is one of the main causes of blocked arteries and taking steps to decrease cholesterol in your blood stream is an effective way to treat these symptoms.

See this post cholesterol for advice on what steps to take to lower your LDL cholesterol levels naturally and help unclog arteries.

Seeing your physician is the best thing you can do if you are experiencing these artery blockage symptoms but you should also take steps on your own to lower cholesterol naturally. After all if you are experiencing any of these symptoms then you need top take action sooner than later.

I have numerous posts on this blog on the topic of reducing cholesterol levels and managing plaque buildup in the arteries but a more comprehensive plan is usually helpful. There are a number of books on the subject but one plan I recommend is an ebook which explains exactly how to lower cholesterol by eating the right foods.  You can read more about it on my post: How To Lower LDL Cholesterol With Your Diet.

Alternatively I invite you to see this recent post on this blog on natural treatments for clogged arteries. If it helps you I'd love it if you left a comment or shared the post with your network.

Preventing Blocked Arteries From Happening

Now I also wanted to put out there that simply waiting until you experience these symptoms of artery blockages is simply unacceptable as a means of prevention and I would assume anyone reading this blog would understand that as well. Some early things you can do to detect artery blockages would be to simply have your lipids tested regularly. Make sure your choleterol levels are in a safe range; make sure you are in a normal blood sugar range, and make sure your blood pressure is under control.

As many of you already know most of these issues can be addressed very generally by doing two simple things. Eat less food and mostly foods which are unprocessed and get more active. You don’t have to work out for two hours every day either. Simply doing little things every day that keep you active such as walking around the block or taking a few laps in the pool before you veg in the hot tub can go a long way towards helping to prevent arterial plaque buildup due to physical inactivity. It’s not just any one thing that is the secret, it’s about doing lots of little things throughout your day that add up.

If you really want to know how to live long you have to wake up to the fact that small incremental progress in minimizing risks for diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and all others is how it’s done… and as a last resort know these signs of artery blockages as this is the number one way that American’s cut their lives short.

To conclude I wanted to share with you this academic clip via YouTube on what happens when arteries become clogged. Seeing it from the inside really brings it all home if you ask me.

Clogged Arteries In The Heart

Click here to read more about lowering cholesterol naturally by eating more of the right foods and avoiding more of the bad foods. Your heart will thank you.

Can We Avoid Aging?

I recently found this great TED Talk on avoiding aging given by Aubrey de Grey, a researcher from Cambridge University, a few years back. I know I often talk about specific things that medical research has shown us about aging and increasing longevity so I thought this lengthy monologue would a nice compliment to what I've blogged about in the past.

One note that I have, which has absolutely nothing to do with trying to or wanting to avoid aging, is that I love they way Aubrey looks in this video. He seriously reminds me of Methuselah or something. :)

On a related note we may not be able to stop aging entirely yet but I did review some of the best anti aging products on the market. This is the usual stop-gap and the science of skin care really has advanced a good deal in recent years.

How To Prevent Plaque Buildup In Arteries

Artery Plaque

Before going any further let me direct you to a few resources on artery plaque that I’ve previously covered here on this site. First and foremost give this past post on how to prevent plaque buildup in arteries a look over for a good overview on what artery plaque is and why it’s important to prevent and reverse plaque buildup in arteries.  Alternatively you may want to read up more on cholesterol and artery plaque.  One very highly rated book on the subject over on Amazon is Steven Sinatra's book on stopping Cardiovascular plaque.

To summarize however I’ll say this; arterial plaque is essentially fatty build up inside the arteries which is a main cause of arterial disease or atherosclerosis which is a main contributor to three of the leading causes of us as a society living shortened lives.

To summarize even further: If you want to know how to live long then you should start out by preventing plaque build up in the arteries.

A Story
This past weekend my wife and I took off for a vacation. We had some familial obligations but we also had some free time so we decided to hit up the local wine country and visit some budding vineyards. We splurged a little bit and definitely had a few glasses of wine too many one of the nights but hey it’s vacation.

On our ride back home earlier this week we started catching up on our podcasts and listened to a whole slew of old episodes of NPR’s Your Health podcast which often touches on many similar disease prevention and longevity secrets that I touch on here on this blog. One episode we listened to struck the two of us more than any other and that was the episode on Longevity Tips.

What I found particularly strange about many of the longevity tips they discussed was not that they preached a lot of what I’ve said over and over here on this blog such as virtually everything I mentioned in my last post on how to increase longevity but also some of the crazy things that I’ve never discussed because I’ve yet to be convinced that they are more than hype.

Anti-aging secrets such as HGH treatments and CRON were discussed as was a new technique in very early developmental stages which is called bioprinting. The concept here is that as your body breaks down you can simply build new organs, tissues, etc. through the use of a bio-printer. Conceptually this will make you virtually immortal as you can always replace whatever part of your body is breaking down.

As fantastic as that seems (and I mean that in the sense of pure fantasy rather than pleasure) I am not about hype and I am not interested in anti-aging techniques that are not proven effective and not simple. I believe that you can live longer very easily by simply doing the right things and mitigating the risks for those most likely to get you in the end… which brings me back to reversing arterial plaque buildup.

Because plaque buildup in the arteries is directly responsible for the major causes of early death as represented by CDC statistics year after year, addressing this problem is the most effective way to lengthen your life. Decrease plaque buildup in arteries and you will more than likely live longer than the average person. It’s that simple.

Preventing Plaque Build Up In Arteries

I already have discussed most of these topics on this blog before but I will iron them out here in simple bullet format for ease of reading and reference. You easily prevent plaque build up in the arteries by:

  1. Lower Your LDL Cholesterol Level – When LDL cholesterol levels are too high cholesterol begins building up on your arterial walls causing artery blockages. This is also one of the leading causes of hypertension. Studies have long shown that you can lower your LDL levels by more plant sterols and getting more omega 3 fatty acids.
  2. Cardiovascular Disease Prevention With Vitamin D – In addition to eating a healthy diet that supports better cholesterol levels vitamin D has increasingly been shown to be pivotal in preventing arterial plaque build up, hypertension, and heart disease.
  3. Lower Systolic Blood Pressure – As previously stated you can lower your blood pressure by preventing arterial plaque buildup but ironically you can help prevent clogged arteries due to plaque build up by lowering your blood pressure. When your blood pressure is high it is more likely to become damaged and more likely to cause plaque buildup. Walking every day is a great way how to lower blood pressure and if you do it outside you will get more sun and make more Vitamin D. Win-win.
  4. Maintain a Normal Blood Sugar Range – Elevated blood sugar levels put people in a far greater risk pool for having arterial disease complications. When blood sugar levels are out of control diabetes, heart disease, and stroke risks are all elevated even when all other risk factors have been mitigated. The easiest way to keep a normal blood sugar level is to simply stay active every day… possibly through walking or other moderate exercise By doing so you will help manage better insulin levels, increase HDL cholesterol, preventing plaque build up in arteries, and manage your blood pressure levels better.
  5. Lastly, Increase Omega-3 Levels With Wine - Remember moderation though. Don’t follow our lead. :) Wine has been shown to increase omega-3 levels which help to prevent arterial plaque buildup and help to lower the risk of heart disease. It may even be why people from wine drinking cultures seem to live longer as discussed in the Blue Zones.

There you go; this is a simple list of actual things you can do to prevent plaque in arteries from building up and live a longer life. No crazy hocus-pocus; just good old-fashioned advice with plenty of science to back it up. I could easily add to this list but I won’t for brevity. Though I could easily remind you to not smoke. But that’s just too easy. :)

As an aside, you may also find this recent post on natural treatments for clogged arteries handy as well as the aforementioned Sinatra book on stopping cardiovascular plaque from building up.

Leading Causes of Death

Heart Disease is easily the leading cause of death in America. One of the major contributors to heart disease is cholesterol. See the following posts for more on lowering your risk for heart disease:

How To Lower LDL Cholesterol Levels Naturally

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