July 6th, 2011 By Jack Morton
According to a recent report, each of the United States’ 5.5K+ Taco Bell restaurants will provide free wireless internet access by 2015, as well as display TV screens to show IndoorDIRECT’s Restaurant Entertainment Network (featuring music, lifestyle and sports entertainment). David Ovens, CMO for Taco Bell Corporation, explains the strategy as a way to “enrich [consumers’ dining] experience.” To captivate on-the-go customers, other QSR chains such as Starbucks and McDonald’s already offer complementary WiFi to millions of customers.
Meanwhile, several studies over the past decade have linked eating in the glow of a TV or computer screen with the rising obesity epidemic. In 2007, a study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior indicated that teens who watched TV while eating had a lower-quality diet than those who turned off the TV during meals. A 2010 study in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition showed that young people who spent multiple hours per day watching TV tend to be overweight or obese — compounded with a national sample indicating 64% of children and teens between the ages of 11-18 watch some TV on during meals. Most recently, in a small 2010 study reported by Reuters, scientists found that adults who ate lunch while playing a computer game ate more cookies 30 minutes later than those who ate lunch away from a computer (suggesting that distractions like computers and TV alter our memories of meals and subsequent cravings).
At a time when instant connectivity and rapid entertainment is a given – and lack of such access can be a real annoyance – U.S. consumers are paying the price for our huge appetite for both quick food and quick media. This phenomenon has altered meal-time social traditions (facebook doesn’t count!), and we’re all guilty of mega-biting until we’re full (full disclosure: I type this post with an empty salad bowl six inches away from my keyboard). But where do we draw the line?