Warning: Just looking at junk food can slow you down

Warning: Just looking at junk food can slow you down

You’ve likely heard the line from the classic Clement C. Moore poem, “The children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.”

Although you’ve probably never found yourself thinking about sugar plums, but it’s likely that at some point, you’ve been distracted by thinking about other, more modern sweet treats. And if you actually see an image of said treats, chances are, it’s really going to distract you.

That’s according to a recent study out of Johns Hopkins University, in which researchers determined pictures of doughnuts, cookies, pizza, ice cream, etc. were nearly two times more distracting than pictures of healthy foods.

Participants were asked to complete a complicated computer task as quickly as possible. While they worked, images flashed in the periphery of the screen for just milliseconds. The photos were shown so quickly that participants were unable to fully comprehend what they saw.

Some images were of non-food items, such as bikes and thumbtacks, while others were of fruits and vegetables. Still other images depicted chocolate cake and potato chips.

The participants were equally distracted by the healthy foods and the non-food items, but they were slowed down by the junk food almost twice as much.

The researchers then conducted the same experiment again, but this time, gave the participants two fun-sized candy bars prior to beginning again. This time, the images of unhealthy foods didn’t distract the participants any more than the healthy foods and non-food items.

Interestingly, the researchers say the results suggest that food has the power to sneak into our minds and grab attention, even when you are doing something totally unrelated and are very concentrated. The thoughts may only exist until we consume it. They also reiterate the recommendation of not going grocery shopping hungry, because you may make selections you typically would not.

“I think that most of us do periodically recognize how distracting high fat, high-calorie food is, but it is good to see that research is being done to prove this,” says Dr. Carli Spanik, family medicine physician with Advocate Medical Group. “This research and more like it can be the extra motivation we need to work on making healthier food choices – not just for ourselves, but for our families and our children.”

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About the Author

Holly Brenza
Holly Brenza

Holly Brenza, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator on the content team at Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her free time, Holly enjoys reading, watching the White Sox and Blackhawks, playing with her dog, Bear and running her cats' Instagram account, @strangefurthings.