You are what you watch: the UK’s first TV diet

Virgin Media proves reality TV may be good for you

Ditch the Atkins, scrap the South Beach and abandon Weight Watchers – today sees the nation’s first ever TV Diet unveiled by Virgin Media.  The research reveals different TV programmes elicit different emotional and physical responses in viewers and so our TV consumption should be balanced in a similar way to a standard diet.  With no programmes off limits, the Virgin Media TV Diet is high in comedy and reality to boost energy levels and low in factual programmes to steady heart rates and anxiety.

The TV Diet was created following the admission that 71 per cent of the nation regularly tune into whatever is on the box, without actually thinking about what they are taking in.  Programmes were split into six genres and in a series of experiments, Virgin Media psychologist Honey Langcaster-James put a number of telly fans through their paces to record responses to a range of TV shows.

Just like the nutritional five a day, the Virgin Media TV Diet is a six a week plan that balances programmes to ensure we’re consuming all the necessary physical and psychological benefits.  Using services such as Virgin Media TV on demand, which includes highlights from the last seven days of programmes as well as a back catalogue of complete TV series, viewers can create their own TV schedules based on the weekly portions prescribed in the TV Diet.

The Virgin Media TV Diet

Reality TV may finally shed its ‘trash TV’ tag, as the research reveals real-life shows such as Strictly Come Dancing and The Family are actually good for us.  With benefits such as helping to reduce stress levels and improving social interaction, reality TV is the second most important TV genre for Brits to watch, and has been allocated one fifth (20 per cent) of our recommended weekly viewing in the Virgin Media TV Diet.

Laughter is often deemed the best medicine and the Virgin Media TV Diet prescribes a large dose.  Making up the biggest proportion of the TV diet at over one third (35 per cent) of our weekly viewing, comedy programmes such as Ugly Betty and re-runs of Friends were found to release happy endorphins, as well as being one of the most absorbing TV genres, offering escapism and relaxation.

Whilst news and documentaries rank as the most informative and thought-provoking programmes, the TV Diet recommends this genre is watched in moderation and factual shows should be kept to only five per cent of our weekly viewing.  Shows such as the Question Time and Dispatches were found to provide educational benefits, but may also increase stress levels.

Fans of soaps such as EastEnders and sports shows including Match of the Day can still indulge as each genre is allocated 15 per cent of our weekly viewing time, whilst dramas such as Tess of the D’Urbervilles should ideally represent only 10 per cent of the TV we watch.

Whilst the TV Diet doesn’t prescribe how much time viewers should spend watching each genre, earlier research found one third of Brits watch up to 20 hours of TV a week, which means the TV Diet would include a whopping 4 hours of reality TV (20 per cent), 7 hours of comedy (35 per cent), 3 hours of both soaps and sports (15 per cent), 2 hours of drama (10 per cent) and just 1 hour of factual (5 per cent) content per week, as a guideline.

Commenting on the findings, Honey Langcaster-James said, “Different TV programmes provoke different emotional and physical responses, and therefore cater to the different emotional needs we have as a viewer.  Just like our food intake, watching a balanced selection of TV programmes is essential, which is why we developed the Virgin Media TV Diet – whilst some things are better for us than others, nothing is ruled out and everything should be watched in moderation.”

Ashley Stockwell, managing director of brand and marketing at Virgin Media said, “Whilst many people are already consuming a balanced TV Diet, there are some people who seem to be stuck in a rut of TV viewing.  We believe that everyone has the right to break free from the TV schedule and dip in and out of live TV and TV on demand.  As we launch the Virgin Media TV Diet, we aim to make Brits more aware of their TV viewing habits and hope to encourage them to experiment and take advantage of the content available on our TV on demand service. There is no reason for telly fans not to start their TV Diets today!”

To download a pdf summary of the TV Diet report, check out

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