Netflix and Grill?

How a culture of 'binge-watching' may be changing our diets

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‘Binging: It’s how we consume content now’ is a line spoken by Jake Peralta in the hit US sitcom Brooklyn 99. Hearing these words in the midst of my post-Hilary hibernation, they stuck around in my head for some reason. In hindsight, this is probably because the episode in question was the twelfth one that I’d watched in single day. As such it landed quite close to home.

A week (and 112 episodes later) I emerged from this slump and attempted to start some vac reading. As this happened, I noticed a few things: first, I was much more productive, but I also started eating more healthily and even doing some exercise. After doing a bit of research, I found that there’s quite a strong link between binge-watching, and out diets.

A recent study by Lori Spruance, a health science professor at Brigham Young University found that young people who watch up to six consecutive hours of media in one sitting are more likely to eat poorly and exercise less. Spruance’s study showed that 85% of ‘binge-watchers’ were less likely to eat fruit and vegetables less than once per day, and under 50% were found to meet daily physical activity recommendations. When evaluating the long-term implications of such habits, weight gain, cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes were all found to be on the cards.

Most of this information is probably unsurprising to readers. TV, as a sedentary recreational activity, encourages snacking; however, the easy pattern of clicking ‘next episode’ over and over again can often lead to a loss of self-control. This in turn is reflected in diet. 

It also might not help that ‘binging’ as a concept is so prevalent in our society. Originally associated with an excessive indulgence in eating or drinking, the fact that the term is so casually invoked by streaming services is problematic in itself. In advertising ‘binge-worthy boxsets,’ Netflix may be seen to be normalising behaviour which is by definition is associated with mental and physical health problems.

When viewed in relation to the increasing student consciousness about mental health in Oxford, the prevalence of ‘binge-culture’ may be seen to have a dramatic impact on Oxonians in particular. Lottie Seller’s article last week has already highlighted the isolating impact that Oxford’s short-terms can have on individuals, with the intense eight-week term structure effectively encouraging a culture of ‘binge-studying.’ As such, in attempting to unwind over the vacation and catch-up on TV avoided during term-time leaves Oxford students susceptible to the negative health implications of ‘binge-watching.’

As with many things, the solution suggested by experts is moderation. Spruance’s advice is, “Take breaks from binge-watching; set a limit on the number of episodes you’ll watch at once so you can incorporate healthy activities in your life too.”  Other suggestions include a replacement of unhealthy snacks with healthier ones, and an effort to undertake at least some form of daily exercise.

Ultimately, as Peralta suggests, ‘binge-culture’ is unlikely to disappear anytime soon, especially given the popularity of streaming services among young people. However, if ‘binging’ is to be done (as most of us are likely to do at some point), a greater self-consciousness of how viewing habits influence the ways we eat may help limit the lengthier set-backs to mental and physical health.