September and October mark the start of television’s new fall season as the premieres of new shows and old favorites hit the airwaves. But, University of Minnesota researchers found that watching television while eating family meals may have a negative impact on children’s diets.
School of Public Health Project EAT researchers found that children in families who watched TV while eating meals together had a lower-quality diet than the children of families who ate together, but turned the TV off. Boys watching TV while eating family meals consumed fewer vegetables and grains, and more soft drinks, than those who did not watch TV; girls watching TV ate significantly fewer dark vegetables and more fried food.
Dianne Neumark Sztainer, Ph.D., principal investigator of the Project EAT study, suggests more than one reason for why this occurred. “The television may be influencing the types of foods that adolescents choose to eat because of the advertisements they see. Alternatively, meal situations and foods served within homes where the television is on during meals may be different. Further research is needed to explore our findings,” she said.
Although watching TV negatively impacts the nutritional quality of food children eat at family meals, children engaged in regular family meals did eat healthier foods than children in families who did not eat regular meals. “This study provides further support for the importance of family meals. Families who plan to eat together, even if it is while watching TV, may be more likely to try and prepare well-balanced meals than when adolescents are eating meals on their own,” said Shira Feldman, M.P.H., R.D., Project EAT investigator and first author of the study.
“Our message to parents is: whenever possible, eat family meals and try to keep television viewing to a minimum. Use the time to catch up with your children on whatever is going on in their lives,” Neumark Sztainer suggested.
The Project EAT study was published in the September/October issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.
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