Review: Are Pictures of Food Making Us Eat More?

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If you went to your favorite social media site, how many pictures of food would you see? Maybe you have even taken some of these pictures yourself! Add this to the countless cooking shows, cookbooks, and recipe blogs, and you probably see a lot of food images throughout the day.

If you’re scrolling through at a lot of fat and calorie-rich food images that look delicious – coined food porn – that might be making you eat more, especially if you are already hungry, points out a new review on the topic. Published in Brain and Cognition, the review article looks at how the many food images we see everyday may be playing a role in the current obesity epidemic.22302352_s

Obesity is linked to increased risk of ten cancers, including colorectal and liver.

While we usually think about the sense of taste when it comes to food, sight is integral to nutrition and survival. If you think back to a time when we were hunting and gathering, sight is how we foraged for food. Visual cues allowed our early ancestors to predict how safe and nutritious the food, argues the paper’s authors.

Researchers have also found that food images, particularly high fat or “pleasing” foods, cause an increase in brain activity, especially if we are hungry. In some cases, they can also cause people to salivate more, a sign of food anticipation.

Food advertisers know the impact that sight can have on desire for food as well as food choices. Research suggests that advertisements increase our wanting for food and eating even if we are not hungry. Is it then possible that our increased exposure to indulgent foods may be at least one cause of our increasing tendency to over-indulge?

Given that obesity increases risk of cancer along with other diseases, it’s important to understand the diverse factors that influence our relationship to food and potentially drive us to consume more. We are increasingly visually stimulated by food both in person and virtually. While researchers do not yet know for sure the impact this is having on our food intake or weight, it is definitely a factor that deserves a closer look.

Further research is needed but in the meantime maybe try to look at mouth-watering pictures of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and beans next time you scroll through social media.


Author: Samantha

Samantha Tryon MS, RD is a dietitian living in Washington, DC. Sam is a former high school teacher who is passionate about making science information accessible to the public and promoting healthy behaviors and a positive body image.

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