Scary movies make you fat: Stress triggered by such movies has you grabbing junk food for comfort

Researchers at Lebanese American University in New York believe that this is the first study to to observe and assess the effect that movies have on our diet and appetite.

Watching scary/violent movies can result in a person craving junk food and consequently gaining wait, a new study has found.

According to the study by Lebanese American University in New York, such films have proved to have left people feeling very stressed, nervous, tired, and also reaching for junk food for comfort. 

Unlike this, people who watch romantic comedies or narrative films do not have the same emotional reaction and tend to not binge on junk food.

Intense and violent movies can lead to people eating as a way to control the hormone-triggered stress. The researchers of the study also shared that it is one of the first studies to have observed the effect that movies have on our appetite and diet preferences.

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The study had around 84 participants, all of whom were between the ages of 20 and 30. The participants were then randomly given a violent movie or a romantic comedy to watch. Before the study, the participants had to have their heart rate, blood pressure, and grip strength observed and also their stress levels and appetite assessed.

They were then given a tray of food which had a variety of snacks such as popcorn, crisps, biscuits, chocolate, sweets, apples, orange juice, and Pepsi. They were told that they could eat anything they wanted and were then left alone to watch the film comfortably.

People who had watched the violent films turned out to have higher levels of nervousness, exhaustion, and sadness, unlike the group which watched the romantic comedies. 

According to the results which were published in Eating Behaviors, as reported by DailyMail, neither of the participants showed any differences in their hunger levels as compared to the start of the film. However, the group which watched the violent movie had eaten more as compared to the other group, consuming on an average 6.45 food items as compared to 4.93 by the rom-com group.

The lead authors of the study 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."

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In the experimental group, out of the 42 participants, 62 percent had consumed more than two fatty foods while 71.4 had more than two salty food items. There was no significant difference in sugary foods between the two groups. The authors shared, "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."

"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," Dr. Mattar continued.

Given that the government is trying to tackle childhood obesity, this insight and research could help to identify and highlight some key issues. "Addressing this issue and its implication in children is a must. This could be done through public health interventions that tackle movie content."