Digital media multitasking associated with obesity risk, says study
Media multitasking is associated with increased susceptibility to food temptations and lack of self-control, which may result in weight gain.
A study has found that people who switch between digital services tend to gain weight.
The study published in the journal ‘Brain Imaging and Behavior’ has revealed that media multitasking is associated with increased susceptibility to food temptations and lack of self-control, which may result in weight gain.
“Increased exposure to phones, tablets, and other portable devices has been one of the most significant changes to our environments in the past few decades, and this occurred during a period in which obesity rates also climbed in many places,” said Richard Lopez, the study’s lead author.
“So, we wanted to conduct this research to determine whether links exist between obesity and abuse of digital devices, as captured by people’s tendency to engage in media multitasking,” Lopez said.
The research was conducted in two parts. In the first part, 132 participants between the ages of 18 and 23 completed a questionnaire assessing their levels of media multitasking and distractibility. This was done using a newly developed, 18-item Media Multitasking-Revised (MMT-R) scale.
The MMT-R scale measures proactive behaviours of compulsive or inappropriate phone use (like feeling the urge to check your phone for messages while you’re talking to someone else) as well as more passive behaviours (like media-related distractions that interfere with your work).
The researchers found that higher MMT-R scores were associated with higher body mass index (BMI) and a greater percentage of body fat, suggesting a possible link.
In follow-up research, 72 participants from the prior study underwent “an fMRI scan,” during which the researchers measured brain activity while people were shown a series of images. Mixed in with a variety of unrelated photos were pictures of appetising but fattening foods.
When media multitaskers saw pictures of food, researchers observed increased activity in the part of the brain dealing with food temptation. These same study participants, who also had higher BMIs and more body fat, were also more likely to spend time around campus cafeterias.
Overall, Lopez said these findings, although preliminary, suggest there are indeed links between media multitasking, a risk for obesity, brain-based measures for self-control and exposure to real-world food cues.
“Such links are important to establish, given rising obesity rates and the prevalence of multimedia use in much of the modern world,” he said.
Lopez and his fellow researchers hope the study will raise awareness of the issue and promote future work on the topic.