Couch Habits Affect Eating Habits
May 29, 2012

Couch Habits Affect Eating Habits

The less time you spend surfing from cushion to cushion on your couch, the better chance you have of reducing your junk food intake, according to a new study.

A new Northwestern University study has found that changing one bad habit has a domino effect on others.

By reducing leisure time spent lounging around the living room, the researchers found that participants spent less time eating junk food and saturated fats.

The new study also found the most effective way to change a sloth-type lifestyle is to changes how much time you spend watching television or surfing the Internet, and eat more fruits and vegetables.

"Just making two lifestyle changes has a big overall effect and people don't get overwhelmed," Bonnie Spring, lead author of the study published in Archives of Internal Medicine, said. "Americans have all these unhealthy behaviors that put them at high risk for heart disease and cancer, but it is hard for them and their doctors to know where to begin to change those unhealthy habits."

The team found that by using this simple strategy of stopping a bad habit, people are able to make big lifestyle changes in a short amount of time.

Spring said she wanted to find the most effective way to motivate people to change bad health habits like eating junk food and not getting enough exercise.  So she, along with colleagues, went to work by assigning 204 adult patients with unhealthy habits into one of four treatments.

The treatments assigned to the participants in the study included: An increase in eating fruits and vegetables, as well as more exercise; decreasing fat intake and sedentary leisure time; a decrease in fat intake and an increase in physical activity; and an increase fruit and vegetable intake and a decrease in sedentary leisure.

Participants entered their daily data into a personal digital assistant during the three week study period and uploaded it to a coach that communicated with them as needed.

The participants were told they would be earning $175 for meeting goals during the three-week treatment phase, but when that period ended, patients no longer needed to keep up with their lifestyle change in order to be paid.  Instead, they were asked to submit data three days a month for six months, receiving $30 to $80 per month.

"We said we hope you'll continue to keep up these healthy changes, but you no longer have to keep them up to be compensated," Spring said in the press release.

Spring said they were amazed at the results over the next six months.

"We thought they'd do it while we were paying them, but the minute we stopped they'd go back to their bad habits," she said. "But they continued to maintain a large improvement in their health behaviors."

They found that about 86 percent of participants said once they made the change, they tried to maintain it.

"There was something about increasing fruits and vegetables that made them feel like they were capable of any of these changes," Spring said. "It really enhanced their confidence."

She said the team found that people can make large changes to their lifestyle in a short period of time.

"It's a lot more feasible than we thought," she remarked in the press release.