Television’s bad influence on viewers’ eating habits has long been a source of concern for health experts and parents. However, a new study by researchers in Italy shows that the more exposure to newspapers, television and the Internet people have, the healthier they eat. The study, conducted by researchers at the Fondazione di Ricerca e Cura “Giovanni Paolo II” in Campobasso, Italy, found that the more participants used television, newspapers and the Internet as a source of information, the more closely they adhered to a traditional Mediterranean diet.
The Mediterranean diet is the eating pattern that was historically followed by inhabitants of the lands surrounding the Mediterranean Ocean. It has long been considered the ideal diet for humans. The current pattern of eating that is prevalent in Europe and North America is known as the Western diet. It is considered one of the least healthy diets and is known to lead to both short-term and long-term health problems.
In recent decades, the Western diet has spread across many parts of the globe along with Western clothing, pastimes and entertainments, including television. Often, observers have placed part of the blame for the spread of unhealthy eating habits on television viewing. Some experts had assumed that the spread of other forms of mass media would have a similar effect. The new study, however, highlights the folly of lumping all use of television or other media together and assuming the consequences will all be negative. The results suggest that the effect of mass media, like most other things, often depends upon how and why it is used.
The research, which is the first of its kind to look closely at the types of media accessed and to take into account how they are used, was published in the International Journal of Public Health. Previous studies analyzed only the impact television viewing had upon watchers’ health and generalized the results to include other types of media.
The investigators studied 1,000 participants in the largest Moli-sani Project, a famous epidemiological study that involves 25,000 inhabitants of Molise, Italy. The goal of the Moli-sani Project is to determine the effect of environmental and genetic factors on the development of cardiovascular disease and tumors. As part of the larger study that included gathering information on individual dietary habits, participants were asked to answer questions regarding their use of mass media. The data was plugged into a specially created instrument designed to measure participants’ exposure to mass media information, and then the results were analyzed.
According to researcher Americo Bonanni, “Results have shown that people most exposed to information delivered by any mass media source reported higher adherence to the Mediterranean-like eating patterns.
“In particular, people…reported higher consumption of some key foods of the Mediterranean diet pyramid, such as fruits and fresh fish, and a lower consumption of less healthy food such as animal fats.”
The researchers concluded that health experts should stop viewing mass media, including television, as the enemy and begin figuring out how to use it to get better information to the public more effectively.