Television Served With Your Children’s Meal Is A Quick And Easy Recipe For Obesity

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)

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  • Sue

    “I wouldn’t know how to get my children to a meal without the trance of the television.”

    I just don’t even know what to say to this except – seriously? Who is the boss in that house?

    • Carinn Jade

      I am definitely the boss, when I am busy the last thing I want to do is sit down for a meal. I typically wolf something down on the run. It must be genetic.

    • CW

      You need to develop a routine where the whole family sits down together at certain designated times to eat meals- WITHOUT the television on. I would start in the evening and enforce it by making the choice between sitting still during the meal or getting sent to bed without supper. It will only take once or twice being put to bed hungry before the child will catch on.

    • waffre

      I was going to comment that I was one of those kids who never sat still and that if my parents could get me to sit down for meals without television it must be possible, then I read your comment and I remembered that that’s what they did, send me to bed hungry. It only took one time. ;-)

    • K.

      That was my reaction precisely. And Carinn, your response says it all–your children won’t eat at the table because you aren’t willing to make that a priority. Which is fine–I’m not into telling someone how to parent–but let’s just be clear: this arrangement is the result of a choice YOU are making as the parent. It has nothing to do with the super-special-snowflake “active nature” of your kids that “necessitates” eating in front of the TV.

  • Lindsey

    Teaching your children to sit down during meal time is important. I also tend to eat on the go when I am alone BUT I do sit down with my daughter when she is here. It is tempting to let the kids plop down in front of the TV while they eat so that you can do other things BUT you really need to try to break them of that. The kids need to be able to sit and eat at restaurants and at other peoples’ homes and they won’t be able to do that if they are trained to need the TV at meal times.

  • chickadee

    Try feeding them at the kitchen table. If they don’t eat, they don’t eat. Then they will be hungry the next time you feed them at the table. You are the parent so you make a rule that no food goes out of the kitchen. You kind of need to take control of the situation.