Families that dine with the turned on TV tend to eat less healthy food and to enjoy the meals less than families who leave the TV off, according to a recent U.S. study.
This was true even for families that were not paying attention to the TV and only had it on as background sound, the researchers write in the journal Appetite.
“Having the TV on during the family meal may decrease the opportunity for this connection between family members and blunt the protective effects of the meal,” says Trofholz, a researcher at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.
To discover the link between TV watching during meals and risk factors for childhood obesity, the study team analyzed video recordings of 120 families that included a child aged 6 to 12.
The families were selected from primary care clinics in Minneapolis between 2012 and 2013 and were mostly from low-income and minority groups.
The families recorded two of their family meals using an iPad and reported to the research team what they had eaten and how much they had enjoyed it.
The study team recorded the health of the meals themselves, whether a TV was being used and the emotional atmosphere of the meal.
Families eating with the TV on also ate fast food for dinner significantly more often than those without TV on.
Eileen FitzPatrick, an assistant professor at The Sage Colleges in Troy, New York commented,”A non-distracted meal environment, without the TV on, is an opportunity for children to enjoy eating, try novel foods and self-regulate eating when healthy options are provided. Having the TV on during dinner is a distraction which may lead to ‘mindless eating’ including overeating without realizing it,”