Science Says: TV Viewing Is Making Your Kids Fat

Tuning in to fewer fruits and vegetables and more candy and fast food is a recipe for childhood health disaster.

The newest members of our fast-food nation. (Photo: Donna Day/Getty)

May 21, 2012
A former Gourmet staffer, Lawrence enjoys writing about design, food, travel, and lots of other stuff.

The Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine has published the results of a study that examined the association between television viewing and eating behaviors in a sample of more than 12,000 students in grades five to 10.

“Television viewing time was associated with lower odds of consuming fruit or vegetables daily and higher odds of consuming candy and sugar-sweetened soda daily,” found the study. “And skipping breakfast at least one day per week, and eating at a fast food restaurant at least one day per week.” 

Basically, TV increases the chances your kid could get fat.

A major factor is the “exposure to food advertisements, which highlight primarily energy-dense, nutrient-poor products and influence food preferences,” as well as the couch-potato, eating-while-watching-television habits that are also common among many adults.

It you choose to eat fried, fatty foods and don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, you’ve become the role model for what not to do.

These conclusions follow a pattern that’s been noted in other research supporting the theory that unhealthy eating behaviors are formed early in life. A 2011 Nestlé Nutrition study noted, “that toddlers from the age of 12 months and up consumed one third of their daily calories from snacking between meals.”

One obvious solution is to try and limit the amount of television your children watch. The American Academy of Pediatrics “strongly discourages television viewing for children ages two years old or younger,” and recommends that until more research is done about the effects of screen time on very young children they should watch “no more than one to two hours per day of educational, nonviolent programs which should be supervised by parents or other responsible adults in the home.”

Another obvious option is for parents to gradually cut back on the amount of snacks their children consume and to try and steer them to fruit instead. It’s also important to try and wean your kids away from the very adult habit of eating out of boredom or distress and to stress the importance of eating at meal times.

In a way, it’s as much about you as it is your children. It you choose to eat fried, fatty foods and don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, you’ve become the role model for what not to do. If your kids watch you eat huge quantities of junk food, there’s a good chance they’ll follow suit.

What can you do to help your family live a healthier lifestyle? Leave a comment below.

Lawrence Karol is a freelance writer and editor who lives in New York City in a mid-century-modern-inspired apartment with his dog, Mike. He is a former Gourmet editor, who enjoys writing about design, food, and lots of other stuff. @WriteEditDream | Email Lawrence

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