Din­ner with TV may be a recipe for less healthy meals

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

NEW YORK: Fam­i­lies that eat din­ner with the TV on tend to eat less healthy food and to en­joy the meals less than fam­i­lies who leave the TV off, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent US study. This was true even for fam­i­lies that were not pay­ing at­ten­tion to the TV and only had it on as back­ground noise, the re­searchers write in the jour­nal Ap­petite. “Fam­ily meals are pro­tec­tive for many as­pects of child health,” lead au­thor Amanda Trofholz said by email, ad­ding that par­ents can take this time to check in with chil­dren and teach them about set­ting lim­its on their di­ets. “Hav­ing the TV on dur­ing the fam­ily meal may re­duce the op­por­tu­nity for this con­nec­tion be­tween fam­ily mem­bers and blunt the pro­tec­tive ef­fects of the meal,” said Trofholz, a re­searcher at the Univer­sity of Min­nesota, Min­neapo­lis.

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 health 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. 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.

“A non-dis­tracted meal en­vi­ron­ment, with­out the TV on, is an op­por­tu­nity for chil­dren to en­joy eat­ing, try novel foods and self-reg­u­late eat­ing when healthy op­tions are pro­vided,” said Eileen Fitz-Pa­trick, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at The Sage Col­leges in Troy, New York. “Hav­ing the TV on dur­ing din­ner is a dis­trac­tion which may lead to ‘mind­less eat­ing’ in­clud­ing overeat­ing with­out re­al­iz­ing it,” Fitz-Pa­trick, who was not in­volved in the study, said by email. Fitz-Pa­trick added that ad­ver­tise­ments on TV mar­ket un­healthy foods to chil­dren and can shape what foods they pre­fer to eat for din­ner. Fam­i­lies should try to view the fam­ily meal as a fam­ily event rather than just a ne­ces­sity, Trofholz said. “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.”

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