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Kids also eat more while watching TV

Two teens watching television and eating popcorn



I wrote not long ago about how distractions such as music during a meal will contribute to adults eating more than they would without music on (News Bite, 11/07/06), and you've probably heard the estimates that children consume about 25% of their daily meals in front of the television. Recently, scientists at the University of Buffalo devised a pair of experiments to see if television viewing affected the amount children ate (Am J Clin Nutr 2007;85(2):355-61).

The first experiment involved 30 healthy children: 14 boys and 16 girls. All were between 9 and 12 years of age and were not overweight. They were asked to click the mouse button to cause a computer light to flash either green or red, and if the light flashed green, they received a 100 calorie portion of food (half a children's hamburger). Before starting the experiment, the children were told that they would be playing a game for food, and when they didn't want any more food, they could play with other activities in the room. The game was played seven times in two-minute time blocks. After the first seven times, one-third of the kids were told that if they wanted to continue playing, they would now play for French Fries. A second third of the kids were told that they could continue playing for hamburgers, if they wished, and the last third also continued playing for hamburgers, while a 6-minute television clip was shown to them. The game was played three more times and then the experiment ended.

The second experiment also had the children split into three groups: one group was shown an unfamiliar, 23-minute episode of a television show they liked, the second was shown a repeated 1.5-minute segment of a television show they liked, and the third was given no television or other games. All children were given 1000 calories of a favorite snack food and were asked to inform the experimenter when they were done eating. The experiment ended when the child was done eating or after 23 minutes, whichever came first.

In the first experiment, both the children watching television and the children offered a new food ate more than the children continuing with the same food. In the second experiment, the children watching the entire episode of television ate more than the children watching the repeated segment or no television. The researchers concluded that television's ability to distract children from what they're eating disrupts a child's innate ability to control their intake appropriately.

What this means for you

Both children and adults eat more when they're distracted, whether it's television, music, or something else. Make meal times a time to focus on the food, not the television.

First posted: February 14, 2007