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Eating While Multitasking Could Increase Food Consumption

December 17, 2010

Working through lunch to increase productivity or snacking in front of the computer while trying to level up an MMORPG character could increase an individual’s food intake for the rest of the day, researchers at Bristol University in the UK have discovered.

In testing their theory, researchers from Bristol’s School of Experimental Psychology’s Nutrition and Behavior Unit conducted a study in which they split 44 subjects into two groups. The first group ate a lunch consisting of nine different foods while playing the card game Solitaire on a computer, while the second consumed the same midday meal without playing computer Solitaire.

According to a December 16 university press release, “The researchers found that participants who played Solitaire felt less full after lunch. Moreover, the effects of distraction were long lasting. Thirty minutes later, the distracted participants ate around twice as many snacks as did non-distracted participants. Finally, at the end of the test session, the participants tried to remember the food items that they had been given for lunch. Distracted participants had a poorer memory.”

The findings, they say, prove that eating while distracted can lead to increased food intake, both in the short term and throughout the rest of the day. The reason, according to what researcher Jeffrey M. Brunstrom told Amy Norton of Reuters, is because “memory for recent meals influences the amount of food that we select and then consume at a subsequent meal.”

“When our memory is poor, then at a subsequent meal we tend to select and consume a greater amount of food,” he told Norton in an email interview. “We know from several studies that distraction can increase the amount that people consume in a meal. Here, we extend this finding to show that the effects of distraction last beyond a meal.”

The study, entitled ‘Playing a computer game during lunch affects fullness, memory for lunch, and later snack intake,’ was written by Brunstrom, Rose Oldham-Cooper, Charlotte Hardman, Charlotte Nicoll, and Peter Rogers. It will be published in the January issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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