Are your patients watching Mukbang videos, and is it safe?

By Lisa Marie Basile | Fact-checked by Jessica Wrubel
Published May 15, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Mukbang videos feature a content creator eating large amounts of food in one sitting. The videos gained popularity in the early 2000s, but experts question if they’re safe for viewers.

  • Mukbang videos may trigger some patients with a history of disordered eating. Engaging in overeating could also lead to chronic health problems.

  • It’s important to talk to your patients about the risks associated with overeating.

If you’ve scrolled through TikTok or perused YouTube, you’ve likely come across countless videos of people eating large amounts of food in one sitting—be it several sushi rolls or an assortment of McDonald’s items. These videos are referred to as Mukbang— a word made up of the Korean words for “eat” (meokneun) and “broadcast” (bangsong).[] 

Recently, these videos have come under the spotlight for their potentially harmful effects on viewers’ health—but more on that below. 

A look at mukbang’s origins

Mukbang videos became popular in the late 2000s as produced, live-streamed shows showcasing content creators eating large quantities of food while viewers watched. Today, mukbang is a popular form of entertainment across the globe—in the form of everything from short-form videos to autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) videos designed to elicit a sensory experience from the sound of people eating.[] []

But why do people like to watch others eat—and is the trend harmless? Researchers in the Health Informatics Journal posited that mukbang’s popularity may be rooted in both a love of communal eating as well as a sense of loneliness: “Korea has a culture of eating together. When Koreans eat, they not only share a table but also the same dishes. As the number of single-person households increases and the generational landscape changes in Korea, fewer people are eating with their families. In this generation, watching mukbang via online broadcasting is an alternative way to satisfy the yearning for communal eating,” the researchers wrote.[]

However, in an effort to reduce loneliness, mukbang videos could be encouraging problematic behaviors. A 2021 study published in Psychiatry Investigation found a positive correlation between loneliness, problematic mukbang watching, and problematic YouTube use.[]  While this study echoes others, the authors note the need for additional study: “Further research is required to better understand the psychological processes underlying problematic mukbang watching and its association with other mental health conditions (e.g., addictive disorders, eating disorders)” the researchers in Psychiatry Investigation write.[]

Other reasons viewers turn to the videos may have to do with vicarious satisfaction; watching another person eat is a form of “food porn,” researchers also state in the Health Informatics Journal.[] 

But that’s not all. Due to the fact that anyone can film and post a mukbang video, the same researchers theorize that the practice may be driven by viewers wanting to access its “deviant mood, nuanced against the middle-class style of dietary culture made up of nuclear families with affluent, sophisticated dishes and table settings, along with elegant eating mannerisms.” 

Potential risks associated with mukbang video viewing

While these videos may stem from shifting cultural norms around meal sharing and other sociocultural influences, recent media reports show that experts think they potentially could be harmful.

Stefanie M. Lawson, LCSW, thinks that the videos could “potentially trigger an urge to binge in somebody who is already more prone to binge-eating behaviors. This can be because mukbang style videos are often viewed in isolation, which is typically how binge-eating episodes occur as well.” 

Lawson adds that mukbang videos may even “normalize or even enable binge-eating behaviors for some individuals by creating an acceptable space that further encourages the behavior and lacks the presence of family, friends or social supports who may play an important role in helping the individual to maintain recovery.”

On the other hand, Lawson adds, “an individual who’s experiencing more restrictive eating patterns, like anorexia nervosa or avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), may find that mukbang elicits their own feelings of aversion, disgust, fear, or shame when it comes to food or gaining weight, thus possibly further encouraging the restrictive eating patterns.”

That said, not everyone responds to mukbang in the same way. It’s important to note that some research shows mixed responses to viewing mukbang content in patients with binge-eating disorder. Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry found that “for some, mukbang appears to be a constructive tool in…preventing binge eating.”[] 

According to the same journal, viewers also continually speculate on how mukbang video creators themselves are able to “repeatedly ingest large amounts of food and seemingly not gain weight,” claiming unhealthy behaviors, including purging or intensive physical exercise.[] 

Lawson says that patients with disorder eating are experiencing the same kind of physical and emotional distress that comes with other medical or mental health conditions and that these disorders can “Significantly impact [a patient’s] ability to function from day to day, reducing their quality of life.” 

Beyond disordered eating, “overeating can have negative consequences on your health, including weight gain, digestive problems, and an increased risk of chronic diseases,” Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD, a registered dietitian at Whitfield County Health Department, says. More specifically, Best says that patients who engage in chronic overeating may experience stomach aches due to stretched stomach capacity, increased insulin secretion, increased fat storage, increased inflammation, and slower digestion. 

Although mukbang videos may seem like fun, Best says physicians should advise patients not to replicate what they’ve seen on the screen.

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