Families that eat dinner with the television on tend to eat less healthy food and to enjoy the meals less than families who leave the TV off, according to a recent U.S. study from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.
This was true even for families that were not paying attention to the TV and only had it on as background noise.
Family meals are protective for many aspects of child health. They also provide an opportunity for parents to check in with children and teach them about healthy eating.
To explore the link between TV watching during meals and risk factors for childhood obesity, the study team analyzed video recordings of 120 families that included a child aged 6 to 12.
The families were recruited from primary care clinics in Minneapolis between 2012 and 2013 and were mostly from low-income and minority groups.
The families recorded two of their family meals using an iPad and reported to the research team what they had eaten and how much they had enjoyed it.
The study team assessed the nutritional quality of the meals themselves, whether a TV was being used and the emotional atmosphere of the meal.
Only one third of the families left the TV off during both recorded meals. About a quarter had the TV on for only one meal and 43 percent left the TV on during both meals.
Of the families eating with the TV on, two thirds paid attention to the TV while the other third only had it on in the background.
Leave the TV off, you’ll eat a healthier meal
Families who ate with no TV playing or with the TV on during only one meal enjoyed their meals more than those that watched during both meals. This was true regardless of whether families paid attention to the TV.
Families that didn’t watch TV during meals ate significantly healthier food than the others. Families that had the TV on but did not pay attention also ate more healthy food than families that actively watched TV while eating.
Families eating with the TV on also ate fast food for dinner significantly more often than those with TV-free meals.
Children of TV-watching families were not more likely to be overweight or obese than children whose families did not watch TV during meals, however.
Distracted eating can lead to overeating
Having the TV on during dinner is a distraction which can lead to mindless eating, including overeating without realizing it.
As well, advertisements on TV market unhealthy foods to children and can shape which foods they prefer to eat for dinner.
The findings suggest that families who see the family meal as a time to connect with and enjoy their families may be more likely to turn off the TV, have a higher quality meal, and enjoy the meal more.
Source: Appetite, online October 15, 2016.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.