Spending time in front of the television is linked to an increased consumption of unhealthy snacks and drinks according to a recent review by Loughborough University experts.
Dr Natalie Pearson and Professor Stuart Biddle of the University's School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences (SSEHS) reviewed 53 studies worldwide focussing on sedentary behaviour and dietary intake, and found a clear association between screen time and an unhealthy diet in children, adolescents and adults.
In particular, television viewing was strongly associated with the consumption of energy-dense snacks, drinks and fast food, and a lower consumption of fruit and vegetables.
Professor Biddle explains: "Not only are television viewers exposed to numerous advertisements that can influence the type of food they desire and consume, but television can also act as a distraction, resulting in a lack of awareness of actual food consumption or overlooking food cues that may lead to overconsumption.
"For some people, a substantial proportion of their daily energy intake is consumed whilst watching TV."
The research, which found similar behaviour patterns for children, adolescents and adults, highlights the important role parents can play in curbing unhealthy habits.
And because TV viewing and snacking habits are typically modelled by parents and carers, any interventions should aim to target adults and children together.
Dr Pearson adds: "If parents place their children in front of the TV with a snack or a meal while they do other household chores, children may start to associate TV viewing with eating.
"The more time children and adolescents spend sedentary in front of a screen, the more likely they are to eat unhealthy foods."
- Natalie Pearson, Stuart J.H. Biddle. Sedentary Behavior and Dietary Intake in Children, Adolescents, and Adults. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2011; 41 (2): 178 DOI: 10.1016/j.amepre.2011.05.002
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