Pediatricians agree that children who eat their meals while distracted by their favorite cartoon characters are less likely to realize they are full.  This allows them to eat mindlessly rather then tuning into the cues that tell them they are finished getting the fuel they need.  There’s just one problem — I wouldn’t know how to get my children to a meal without the trance of the television.

If I didn’t let my kids eat in front of the TV, they wouldn’t eat.  They prefer running around like wild animals, climbing at the park or jumping on their beds at home.  If I don’t trap them in their high chairs and park them in front of 30 minutes of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, they would opt to play all day rather than take a meal break.  But it seems this simple habit may be messing with the signals from their stomachs to their brains.

Dr. Catherine Birken, a pediatrician and associate scientist at the Hospital for Sick Children Research Institute in Toronto, is not alone in her concerns about the growing obesity rates among young children.  To help address the weight problem, which she believes is linked to children’s television viewing habits, Dr. Birkin created a simple and practical intervention to be introduced at a child’s 3-year-old check-up.

The two main points driven in to the minds of parents during this intervention:  no televisions in the bedroom and no eating while watching the screen.

“There is strong experimental data that shows that reducing the number of meals in front of the TV may be the key to understanding screen time and obesity,” says Birken.

Still, Dr. Birken believes reducing television during meals is just a start.  Children are simply spending too much of their time in front of a screen – television or computer – and they are not getting the physical activity they need to burn the calories they are consuming.  Since my kids need to be pinned down to stop running long enough to consume a little food, I shall resume mealtimes hosted by Elmo without guilt (for now anyway).

(photo: marco mayer / Shutterstock)