WTF Fun Fact 13014 – Movies Don’t Really Burn Calories

A popular claim that watching scary movies burns as many calories as a walk re-circulates each year around during spooky season. But in reality, movies don’t really burn calories. The claim wasn’t the results of a rigorous study and was misleading. In fact, it was only made for publicity purposes.

What’s the claim about movies burning calories

From clickbait site to serious websites like The Guardian, it’s common to the headline once a year that watching movies like The Shining burn calories because they get your heart racing. And while that’s not false, the claim that watching a scary movie is somehow equivalent or better to exercise is untrue.

According to The Guardian’s piece the year the study came out:

“Those who watched a 90-minute horror film were likely to burn up to 113 calories – the same sort of figure as a half-hour walk. Some movies were more effective than others, however: of the 10 films studied, the top calorie-burners were the classic Stanley Kubrick chiller The Shining (184 calories), Jaws (161 calories) and The Exorcist (158 calories).”

For starters, sitting and doing nothing for 90 minutes can burn anywhere from 60 to 130 calories, depending on the person. You get those points for just existing. So go ahead and watch Steel Magnolias because scaring yourself silly isn’t going to help you lose weight.

The “study” is not really a study

What’s even more problematic is that while there is an academic behind the claims (and metabolism measurements):

  1. He didn’t set out to perform a rigorous scientific study.
  2. The data was never published in a scientific journal (which is important because that requires a study to be worthwhile, constructed correctly, and subjects it to peer review).
  3. The results are unimpressive at best (and genuinely misleading at worst).

The source of the info is Dr. Richard Mackenzie, listed as “senior lecturer and specialist in cell metabolism and physiology at the University of Westminster in London” at the time. He is cited as saying (via university press release, not a journal study) that:

While the scientists did measure heart rate, oxygen intake and carbon dioxide output, the study involved just 10 people and was commissioned by the movie rental firm Lovefilm (now owned by Amazon).

Mackenzie noted that:

“As the pulse quickens and blood pumps around the body faster, the body experiences a surge in adrenaline. It is this release of fast-acting adrenaline, produced during short bursts of intense stress (or in this case, brought on by fear), which is known to lower the appetite, increase the basal metabolic rate and ultimately burn a higher level of calories.”

The top 5 movies he asked people to watch (with calories burned during viewing) were:

1. The Shining: 184 calories
2. Jaws: 161 calories
3. The Exorcist: 158 calories
4. Alien: 152 calories
5. Saw: 133 calories

No, movies don’t burn calories in any helpful way

When Snopes (cited below) checked up on the even more bombastic claim people had made after hearing about the study (that watching horror movies could help reduce obesity), the noted: “The study was neither peer-reviewed nor published (nor, apparently, meant to be taken seriously). No follow-up studies replicating its findings, and people who wish to lose weight are probably better advised to get some exercise.”

Snopes then went on to point out the obscenely small sample size, the lack of replication of the study (mandatory of a study to actually make its way towards being considered scientific), and the failure to follow-up with subjects’ actual weight loss.

But the most important point is that even if everything had been done properly, the results aren’t impressive.

The average length of a feature film is around 90 minutes, during which the average person sitting on their butts and doing nothing burns 60 – 130 calories. If you stand, you might burn 100 – 200 calories, more than the 184 that people watching The Shining burned. The person watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in the “study” only burned 107 calories – so we’re pretty skeptical of all of these measurements at this point.

The best we can say is that maybe some people burn a couple of extra calories watching scary movies that they would if they were just watching a blank wall. In other words, get your exercise if you want to burn calories in a meaningful way.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Does Watching Horror Movies Reduce Risk of Obesity?” — Snopes

WTF Fun Fact 12901 – Blue Whale Calorie Intake

It’s no surprise that a blue whale’s calorie intake is massive – after all, they’re the largest creatures on Earth (and the largest animal to ever live). But half a MILLION calories is a lot to take in – especially in just one mouthful of food!

Blue whale feeding

The majority of a blue whale’s diet consists of tiny shrimp-like creatures called krill (interestingly, one of the smallest ocean creatures). According to Smithsonian Magazine (cited below): “A foraging whale lunges into a swarm of these shrimp-like animals, accelerating to high speed with its mouth open at a right angle. Pushed back by the rush of water, its mouth expands and its tongue (itself the size of an elephant) inverts to create more room. The whale engulfs up to 110 tonnes of water and any krill within is filtered out and swallowed.”

Jeremy Goldbogen studies blue whales at the University of British Columbia. He tagged 265 of the massive creatures to log the amount of energy they expended while lunging to eat. His devices recorded information for 650 feeding lunges.

“The data-loggers recorded the whales’ position, their acceleration, and the noise and pressure of the surrounding water. The noise was important – by measuring the sound of water rushing past the animal, Goldbergen could work out how fast it was travelling.”

Blue whales can move up to 8 mph in less than a minute and 770 to 1900 calories just to work up the momentum to take that big gulp of ocean water. An average feeding dive takes about 10 minutes, and the whales take around 3 to 4 gulps in that time. But they consume from 6 to 240 times the amount of calories they expend.

Blue whale calorie counting

If a blue whale expends so much energy simply diving for food, it makes sense that they would have to take in an enormous number of calories to make it worth the trouble. But it’s hard to believe just how many calories they can take in.

Smithsonian Magazine states: “If a big whale attacks a particularly dense swarm, it can swallow up to 500 kilograms of krill, eating 457,000 calories in a single monster mouthful and getting back almost 200 times the amount it burned in the attempt. A smaller whale lunging at a sparse collection of krill would only get around 8,000 calories, but that’s still 8 times more than what it burned. Even when Goldbogen accounted for the energy needed to dive in search of prey, the whales still regained 3 to 90 times as much energy as they spent.”

This makes it easier to think of all of the rest of our meals as relatively low-calorie, by comparison.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Blue whales can eat half a million calories in a single mouthful” — National Geographic