Study Warns of Eating Meals in Front of TV

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A new Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center study shows that children who eat meals in front of the television spend more time watching TV — far more time than it takes them to eat their meals. The discovery is significant because excessive TV watching has been linked to obesity.

“Each meal eaten in front of the TV adds 38 to 73 minutes of time to overall television watching,” says Brian Saelens, PhD, a psychologist at Cincinnati Children’s and the study’s lead author. “It’s unlikely that it takes children this long to eat meals. It is more likely that parents in these homes are more permissive and have fewer rules regarding TV watching.”

Dr. Saelens studied 169 families with children in 1990, when the children were 6, and again in 1996, when they were 12. He found that TV watching had increased over time, as did the number of TVs in the home, the presence of VCRs, the frequency of eating meals while watching TV and the percentage of children with TVs in their bedrooms.

By the time these children were 12 they watched about five more hours of TV each week than they did when they were 6, spending about 26 hours each week in front of the television. Children who watched more than two hours of TV a day at age 12 weighed more than children at the same age who watched less than two hours of TV a day.

Dr. Saelens conducted the study by surveying the families and their children. All families lived in San Diego County, California. Height and weight of the children were also measured.

“Reducing TV watching should be considered an important focus area for preventive health counseling by pediatricians,” says Dr. Saelens. “Helping families reduce the frequency with which children eat meals while watching TV may be step toward lowering children’s TV time and decreasing childhood obesity.”

The study is published in the June 6, 2002 issue of the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics and is partially funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, a program of the National Institutes of Health.

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