NUTRITION
September 3, 2013

Football, Fans, and Food

Win or lose, NFL teams' records affect their fans' eating patterns...for better and worse.

Football season is upon us, and it could have an impact on your health. According to a recent study, the types of food fans choose appears to be linked to whether their team wins or loses.

Avid fans of a losing team ate more saturated fat and calories on Monday after a disappointing Sunday game. Fans of the winning team chose healthier foods, say two researchers who examined the effect of sports outcomes on eating behaviors.

People who lived in cities where the NFL team lost consumed about 16 percent more saturated fat and 10 percent more calories than normal.

Over the course of two NFL seasons, people in 24 cities, including those with and without NFL teams, kept a diary of their food consumption for two weeks, each a year apart.

When researchers compared the outcomes of 475 football games involving 30 teams to the foods listed in the diaries, fans' eating habits followed a clear pattern, depending on whether their team had won or lost. Fans of the losing team tended to seek comfort in unhealthy food. Winning teams' fans did the opposite.

Winners and Losers

On the Mondays after a game, people who lived in cities where the NFL team lost consumed about 16 percent more saturated fat and 10 percent more calories compared to what they normally ate on a Monday when there was no weekend game, researchers Yann Cornil and Pierre Chandon of the INSEAD Business School found.

A team's winning seems to boost fans' sense of self control.

People who lived in a city whose NFL team won on Sunday ate about nine percent less saturated fat and five percent fewer calories the next day. Interestingly, these results held true for those who were not football fans, suggesting that they were influenced by the food intake of others.

“People eat better when their football team wins and worse when it loses, especially if they lost unexpectedly, by a narrow margin, or against a team of equal strength,” Cornil and Chandon report. They theorize that when a favorite team loses, fans take it as a threat to their identities and seek food as a way of coping and finding comfort. On the other hand, winning seems to boost fans' sense of self control.

The effects were the strongest in the cities hosting NFL teams, but were seen around the region to varying degrees.

Soccer — The Other Football — Is No Different

To test these associations, the researchers performed a second study in which they asked French adults who were interested in football to write about either a victory or defeat by their favorite athlete or sports team. Later, the participants were asked to find words hidden in a letter matrix and given four bowls of food to snack on while doing so: chips, candy, grapes, and tomatoes. They were unaware this exercise was related to their essays. Those who had written about a losing athlete or team ate more of the fat and sugar-laden snacks, while the group who wrote about winning selected the healthier options.

Advice For Fans of Losing Teams

If you happen to live in a city with an NFL franchise that is struggling, you might be tempted to blame the team for your ballooning weight. But counteracting the tendency to overeat is actually not too difficult, even for diehard fans.

“Even if you are rooting for a perennial loser, there is a solution if you are concerned about healthy eating,” the researchers said in a statement. “After a defeat, write down what is really important to you in life. In our studies, this simple technique, called ‘self-affirmation,’ completely eliminated the effects of defeats.”

The study was published in Psychological Science.
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