If you want your children to eat healthy, turn off the TV

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10 Nov 2016 - General

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 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, 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 analysed video recordings of 120 families that included a child aged 6 to 12.

The recruited 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.


Meal times may give parents an opportunity to talk to their children about healthy eating.

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% 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 FitzPatrick, 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,” FitzPatrick, who was not involved in the study, said by email.

FitzPatrick 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.” – Reuters/Madeline Kennedy

*Adopt from Star2

Thank you all for sharing your thoughts. To me, i always think that meal time is very important for people to connect. There was one saying that say it's more difficult to find a good person to have a perfect meal with you than find a lifetime pa...
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I guess this is now one of the struggle of every home. Making their child eat with out any distractions. Coz even us in our home, we do eat with our TV on. However, i can attest that there is still a productive conversation during our family meal. An...
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Like Theekshana Abayawickrama I am also guilty of doing this. I have gotten so used to multi-tasking that I can't even remember the last time that I just ate a meal without doing anythi...
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I totally agree with these results. Most homes have the television in the dining room right in front of the table where the family usually eats. Ironically, it is also common habit to eat in front of their computer so that they “don’t waste time” an...
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Well, I will have a hard time asking my children not to watch TV while eating, because I am so used to that habit. I want to watch the TV, read a book, or browse the internet on the smartphone while I eat at home or else eating gets really boring. I ...
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So true! There are more and more parents letting their children to eat with the TV/laptop/ipad/phones on as they claimed that the children can eat faster this way. But it is very unhealthy habit and once the children is addicted to the habit, it woul...
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