About The Buzz: Our Digital Environment Triggering Hunger?

The Buzz: Our Digital Environment Triggering Hunger?



Through television shows, social media outlets, blogs and cookbooks, we’re exposed to more images of delicious looking food than any other time in the history of mankind. Is the frequency of these images exacerbating our desire to eat?1


Thousands of years ago, it was the 1st Century Roman connoisseur of fine food, Apicius, who coined the phrase, “We eat first with our eyes.” In our technology-driven culture, that phrase rings truer than ever. Our Instagram accounts are flooded with images of high-calorie foods that stimulate our desire to eat similar foods. We follow accounts of famous “foodies” and world-renowned chefs. At restaurants, we pause to get the perfect shot of our entrée, delaying the gratification of indulging in order to show our friends and family our culinary escapades. We spend more time than ever watching cooking shows, reading cookbooks and pouring over blogs that show high-resolution images of decadent, delicious foods. More often than not, the end result viewing these images is a feeling of “I want that.”


What impact does this constant bombardment of delectable food images have on our food choices? According to the research, the answer is “a lot.” It’s well known that food advertising has incredible influence over the foods we choose to eat, increasing our wanting for food tremendously. We also know that digital media is thought to influence over 70% of the foods eaten in American households.


Research has also shown that high-fat food images motivate human behavior more effectively than do low-fat food images.* Studies have shown that a small, but very important, number of key brain regions are activated in response to food pictures. This means that as you passively scroll through your Instagram feed, your brain is being primed to desire to eat foods similar to those that you are viewing. Viewing images of food cues our visual hunger, our desire to eat in the absence of any actual food

In the face of new technological advances and the current obesity epidemic, it’s important to discuss how our relationship to technology impacts our health and our waistlines. While it’s too soon to know if our frequent exposure to digital food images is causing overconsumption of high-calorie foods, it’s safe to say that digital media does influence our food choices, making it likely that there is a connection between what we see, how often we see it, and what we eat (and subsequently, how much we weigh).


As stated above, we have yet to fully understand the relationship between our digital food image viewing behaviors and our health. The good news is that if there is a connection between what we view, what we consume and how much we weigh, this connection can be used to also influence more healthful food behaviors that will nudge consumers towards nutritious foods. To receive regular healthy food visual cues, sign up for our Fruit & Veggie Newsletter.


* Spence, C. et. al. Eating with our eyes: From visual hunger to digital satiation. Brain and Cognition (2015). View

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