There’s a new risk factor for obesity and it doesn’t involve dieting, genetics, food consumption, hormone disrupters, or inactivity. The newest risk factor for obesity is of psychological origin and it all starts with the way we use electronics and social media.
Scientists now warn about “media multitasking.” Not only does excessive electronic use lead to physical inactivity, but switching in-between digital media throughout the day also impairs your self control. Excessive use of electronics rewires the brain to favor reward over self control. This psychological addiction to electronic stimulation influences the way you eat and interact with people.
Constantly checking social media throughout the day addicts the brain to short bursts of dopamine. Caught up in this pattern, the brain begins to seek short bursts of pleasure from anything in life, including sugary sweets. In America there is no shortage of sugary sweets and fast foods, so it’s easy for the brain to give in to this pattern. The taste buds are an easy way to keep short bursts of dopamine pulsating to the brain. (Related: Junk food is a moment on the lips, but a lifetime of risk for the arteries.)
Moreover, those who lead hectic digital-intensive lives also spend more time in restaurants and fast food joints, consuming excess calories, hydrogenated oils, and food chemicals that wreak havoc on metabolism. Not to mention, these same people spend more time subconsciously consuming sponsored ads on their social media feed. These targeted ads subconsciously beckon the brain to eat more junk food and spend more at fast food restaurants. People are being manipulated on a massive scale through news feeds, promotional emails, and targeted advertising to consume more.
If you’re constantly feeling the urge to check your phone, tablet, or smart watch, your brain could be suffering. If you cannot control this urge, your brain has a tendency to seek short term stimulation. This pleasure-seeking addiction infiltrates other areas of your life, making you more apt to seek people’s approval or keep your taste buds happy. New research from Rice University finds that those who mindlessly switch in-between digital devices and social media accounts seek temporary pleasure; this lack of self control is also associated with increased susceptibility to indulge in junk food.
“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 lead author Richard Lopez, a postdoctoral research fellow at Rice University. “So, we wanted to conduct this research to determine whether links exists between obesity and abuse of digital devices — as captured by people’s tendency to engage in media multitasking.”
The researchers started by studying 132 young people aged 18 to 23. The participants were asked about their media habits – how much they are distracted by electronics throughout the day. The researchers used an 18 item Media Multitasking Revised scale (MMR-R) to determine when people compulsively and inappropriately use their phone in conversations. It also measured when people are passively distracted by their devices while they are in the middle of a work-related task. The highest MMR-R scores were associated with a higher body mass index and a greater percentage of body fat.
The correlation was followed up with MRI scans of seventy-two participants. The researchers showed a series of images to the participants and measured their corresponding brain activity. Some of the images included fattening foods. The same part of the brain that is stimulated by digital addiction is also stimulated by food temptation. When exposed to images of fattening foods, the participants in the study showed increased activity in the region of the brain that deals with food temptation. The researchers concluded that lack of self control with digital devices spills over into lack of control with real world food cues.
Learn more about the side effects of using technology at Glitch.news.