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Study: Cutting TV time results in better diet

Updated: May 29, 2012 2:03PM

Want to lose weight? Drop the remote. According to a Northwestern Medicine study, reducing time in front of the TV or computer also reduces your intake of junk food and saturated fats.

The study to discover the most effective way to encourage people to change common bad health habits such as eating too much saturated fat and not enough fruits and vegetables; spending too much sedentary leisure time; and not getting enough physical activity, according to Bonnie Spring, professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and lead author of the study.

“Americans have all these unhealthy behaviors that put them at high risk for heart disease and cancer, but it is hard for them and their doctors to know where to begin to change those unhealthy habits,” Spring, a member of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University, said in a release. “This approach simplifies it.”

About 204 adults, 21 to 60, with unhealthy habits were placed in one of four treatments, the study said. The treatments included: increasing fruit/vegetable intake and physical activity, decreasing fat and sedentary leisure, decreasing fat and increasing physical activity, and increasing fruit/vegetable intake and decreasing sedentary leisure.

Study participants earned $175 for meeting goals during the three-week treatment phase, the release said. After three weeks, the participants continued a healthy lifestyle though they no longer had to maintain the changes in order to be paid. They only needed to send data three days a month for six months to receive $30 to $80 per month.

About 86 percent of participants said they tried to maintain the healthy changes to their lifestyles, the release said.

“There was something about increasing fruits and vegetables that made them feel like they were capable of any of these changes,” Spring said. “It really enhanced their confidence.”

During the next six months, the average servings of fruit/vegetables for participants changed from 1.2 to 5.5 to 2.9; average minutes per day of sedentary leisure went from 219.2 to 89.3 to 125.7; and daily calories from saturated fat from 12 percent to 9.4 percent to 9.9 percent, the study found.  

“We found people can make very large changes in a very short amount of time and maintain them pretty darn well,” Spring said. “It’s a lot more feasible than we thought.”

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