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Truth about Television

Dr. Sarah Domoff, a faculty member in the Department of Psychology, researched the negative effects TV viewing has on adolescents’ health. It is important in the ever-changing media landscape to understand how TV consumption affects one’s health. As a result, Dr. Domoff and her co-authors sampled a group of adolescents to investigate whether greater TV viewing associates with addictive phone use, addictive eating, or higher body mass index (BMI) percentile.

Adolescents are major consumers of TV. In 2019, 57% of adolescents reported watching TV every day for an average of one hour and 49 minutes each day. Prior research suggests a link between adolescent TV viewing and the risk of obesity, with exposure to commercials being the primary contributor. Adolescents see around 15 food-related commercials on TV per day. Exposure to commercials that promote unhealthy foods is associated with an increased total intake of such foods even in the absence of hunger. Furthermore, because adolescents have a lower inability to control impulse behaviors, they are “ a cognitive disadvantage when they view these advertisements.” As a result, adolescents have a greater likelihood of developing addictive behaviors.

A group of people sitting at a table and talking to each other.To learn more about how TV affects one’s health, Dr. Domoff sampled 190 adolescents (ages 13-16) who self-reported their daily TV consumption using time-use diaries (TUDs), tools used for logging and tracking activities. The participants reported having watched approximately one hour and 7 minutes of TV per day on a traditional TV set with the rest of their daily TV consumption viewed via smartphone, computer, or tablet. Along with the TUDs, participants had their phone dependency, eating patterns, and BMI measured before the study. Using this data, Dr. Domoff determined whether those who watched more TV were more likely to have addictive phone use, addictive eating habits, and a higher BMI percentile. Additionally, the data collected was categorized by participants’ race, gender, and parental education level which helped Dr. Domoff measure any differences in screen time.

The results of the study suggest that screen time only differed by gender, with adolescent females watching more weekday TV than males. In contrast to prior studies, Dr. Domoff did not find an association between more TV viewing and higher BMI percentile. However, she identified a link between increased TV viewing and addictive eating and phone usage, particularly with male adolescents. Though Dr. Domoff’s findings suggest an association between adolescent TV watching and addictive eating and phone use, more research is needed to determine a causal connection.

At CMU We Do Research, We Do Real World

Story by ORGS intern Hailey Nelson

August 2021