The ver­dict on TV at mealtimes.

Tune in, par­ents and chil­dren. Fi­nally, a ver­dict on the mod­ern co­nun­drum of tele­vi­sion dur­ing mealtimes

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - Stellar - - Contents - MATT PRE­STON

Is there any more fiercely fought battle be­tween adults and chil­dren than whether the tele­vi­sion should be on or off dur­ing din­ner time?

I have to de­clare an in­ter­est here. Even though I work in telly, be­fore do­ing my re­search for this col­umn I was def­i­nitely in the “TV off, de­vices down” camp. Things, how­ever, are not as sim­ple as this old-school stance might have us be­lieve. The big ques­tion is what im­pact hav­ing the telly on dur­ing the meal has.

A 2011 study into the eat­ing habits of preschool chil­dren in the Hunter re­gion of New South Wales found a cor­re­la­tion be­tween lower fruit and veg consumption and in­creased TV watch­ing at mealtimes. So maybe we should turn the TV off dur­ing meals.

How­ever, be­fore you do, note that the re­search also found par­ents eat­ing fruit and veg in front of the kids, and fruit and veg be­ing read­ily avail­able, had more im­pact on young kids’ fruit and veg consumption than turn­ing off the telly. So maybe leav­ing the TV on isn’t the worst of our wor­ries at mealtimes when it comes to en­cour­ag­ing healthy eat­ing.

A big con­cern about eat­ing while watch­ing the telly is the sus­pi­cion that it will re­duce mind­ful­ness, and thus we will not be aware of how much we are eat­ing. This is some­thing that came starkly into fo­cus in a study of stu­dents from Univer­sity of Mas­sachusettsAmherst pub­lished in Phys­i­ol­ogy & Be­hav­iour a decade ago. Re­searchers found that their sub­jects ate 36 per cent more pizza and 71 per cent more mac ’n’ cheese (!) when watch­ing TV, com­pared to when they ate lis­ten­ing to clas­si­cal mu­sic. Specif­i­cally, they tested Rach­mani­nov’s sec­ond sym­phony, which was cho­sen as it builds to a crescendo like most TV shows do. So per­haps do turn the telly off.

On the other hand, a 2017 re­port (de Zepet­nek et al) re­vealed watch­ing TV or us­ing a com­puter be­fore din­ner had no such im­pact on how much pizza nine to 14-year-old girls ate (even though video game play­ing be­fore din­ner made the girls more an­gry and frus­trated dur­ing mealtimes). So maybe it’s OK to leave the TV on.

While most par­ents will tell you that the pres­ence of Peppa Pig might be a wel­come and harm­less dis­trac­tion for younger kids, the im­pact on ado­les­cents of hav­ing the telly on dur­ing mealtimes seems more com­plex.

When Danielle Gal­le­gos and her col­leagues sur­veyed ado­les­cents in WA in 2010 about their fam­ily meals, they found that the TV might have been on in 61.3 per cent of house­holds sur­veyed but that less than three quar­ters of ado­les­cents were ac­tu­ally watch­ing it and about 80 per cent of them talked dur­ing the meal even if the TV was on. This makes me won­der whether the TV might help by pro­vid­ing con­ver­sa­tion prompters for par­ents with re­cal­ci­trant teens; cer­tainly that’s some­thing I’ve no­ticed in my house when I come home to find The Project on. So maybe leave the telly on?

How­ever, it also seems that the lower the ed­u­ca­tion level reached by the par­ent, the more likely it is they watch TV dur­ing fam­ily meals. So, maybe turn it off for fear that the neigh­bours will think you’re com­mon.

Of course, in the end, the only re­search you can do that mat­ters is what you note with your own fam­ily. I think the din­ing ta­ble should be a place of en­gage­ment for all the fam­ily, and re­gard­less of all this con­flict­ing data, in my house the TV is still usu­ally off dur­ing fam­ily mealtimes at the ta­ble. I think you get bet­ter con­ver­sa­tion, a bet­ter con­nec­tion and the kids ap­pre­ci­ate the food more. But then, maybe that’s just me… Or, even more likely, these are my father’s rules sur­fac­ing in me.

All the rules go out the win­dow if my team is play­ing, though. In my house, I’m the spoilt child who gets his way.

SQUARE EYES Tele­vi­sion dur­ing mealtimes in­hibits kids’ veg in­take.

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