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How much television do your kids watch?
A recent study from the University of Missouri followed 8,000 children from kindergarten through third grade (J Am Diet Assoc 2007;107(1):53-61). The children were participants in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study - Kindergarten Cohort, a sample of children from schools nationwide who entered kindergarten in 1989. About 48% were boys, 52% girls.
Try Turning Off the Television
You're all no doubt more than familiar with the two main strategies for weight loss: reducing the number of calories you eat and increasing the number of calories you burn. Obesity researchers are also looking at ways to decrease the amount of time people spend in sedentary behaviors (activities that don't significantly increase the number of calories you burn much above your baseline resting state).
Kids also eat more while watching TV
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.
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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?
Obviously, the whole point of food commercials is to get you to buy the product. Researchers in The Netherlands wondered if watching food commercials would actually affect how much you ate while you were watching television (Appetite 2011;56(2):255-260).
They recruited 82 college students, half men and half women and all of normal weight, to participate in what they told the students was a study on travel preferences. Each student responded to a questionnaire on travel: favorite locations, means of transportation, etc. They were then shown to a living room-like setting, complete with sofa, television, water and snack foods, where they were left alone to watch a thirty-minute clip from a travel documentary. The documentary had two commercial breaks consisting of 8 commercials.
For half of the students, the commercials were all non-food-related. For the other half, each commercial break consisted of 3 snack food commercials and 5 non-food commercials. The snack foods available to the students (not the same foods as in the commercials) were weighed before and after each viewing so that the researchers could gauge how much the students ate.
The results were rather surprising. The women ate more when they were shown food commercials, while men ate more when all of their commercials were non-food. Researchers could only theorize that this was because women are the target market for food commercials, as they are usually those who do the food purchasing. Certainly the female students, when polled, indicated that they liked the food commercials better than the male students did, while the men liked the non-food commercials better.
All this suggests plenty of new avenues for research into how commercials affect food consumption. For you, dear reader, the take-home message is that eating in front of the television is still not a good idea if you're watching your weight. Pay attention to what you're eating and take the time to really enjoy it.
First posted: March 23, 2011