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Healthy parents, healthy kids
Experts in pediatrics have identified four important activity and dietary recommendations for children's health. They are: Total fat intake of less than 30% of caloric intake per day; 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity; watching television (including video games and the like) for less than two hours per day; and eating at least five servings per day of fruits and vegetables. 

The Quality of Food Advertised to Children
If you have kids, chances are they watch Nickelodeon: the cable channel's programs account for 47 out of the 50 top children's shows on television today. Those programs reach into movies, books, magazines, and websites, while the characters in those programs are used to market food products and are made into collectible toys.

Do Snack Food Commercials Make You Eat More?
A few years ago I reported on two studies that indicated that children eat more when they're watching TV while they're eating and that adults who watched less television ate less and burned more calories than their peers who watched all the TV they wanted. Clearly television has an effect on your eating. But what about the content of what you're watching - or more specifically, what about the food commercials?


 

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Watch What You're Eating. Literally.



I've written in the past about the link between different environmental factors and eating. It seems, for example, that those children who watch more than two hours per day of television or computer time are more likely to be overweight (Bites 10/31/07); college students ate 20% more calories while listening to music (Bites 11/07/06), and children also eat more while watching television (Bites 02/14/07).

Another study has been published in the journal Appetite (2009;52(1):39-43) which focuses on television and food intake. Researchers in the school of Psychology at the University of Birmingham, United Kingdom, formulated a theory which described why people might eat more if they eat while watching television. To test their theory, the researchers recruited 16 young women whose average age was 19 years and who were within the normal range for their Body Mass Index (BMI).

On two separate occasions each subject ate a standardized lunch of a sandwich and potato chips – once while watching a standard, ten-minute television clip and once in the absence of television. Later in the afternoon of both days the subject returned to the lab for an afternoon snack of cookies and were invited to eat as much as they wished. The exact amount that they ate was subtracted from a known starting amount so that the researchers knew how many calories of cookies the subject actually ate.

Before and after each student ate their lunch they filled out a questionnaire which measured their level of hunger and their mood. Then after they ate the cookies in the afternoon, each student rated the taste of the cookies – and how well they remembered what they'd eaten for lunch that day (the test lunch). Specifically, how “vivid” was their recall of their lunch?

Those who were watching television while eating lunch rated their recall of their lunch as far less vivid than those who were not watching television while eating lunch. The television-watchers also ate more cookies during their afternoon snack session.

What this means for you

Once again it seems clear that watching television while eating can lead to eating more. The kicker here is that the added eating doesn't necessarily happen while actually watching television – it seems that it can happen later in the day due to a diminished memory of what one ate while watching television. Make your meal times a time to focus on the great food you're eating – you'll eat less and enjoy it more.

First posted: December 31, 2008