Boob Tube Linked to Kids' Poor Eating

Unhealthy eating patterns related to television watching and snacking

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) The electronic babysitter may do more than keep your child occupied. Too much TV watching may also be contributing to your child's unhealthy eating habits.

A recent study found a link between the amount of TV a child watches and a higher likelihood of having poor eating habits, like skipping breakfast, eating sweets or fast foods, or drinking more sweetened drinks.

"Give your child healthy options for TV snacking."

Leah Lipsky, PhD, and Ronald Iannotti, PhD, of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, Md. studied patterns of eating and television watching in adolescents.

They analyzed the data from 12,642 students in fifth grade through tenth grade who were surveyed for the 2009-2010 Health Behavior in School-Aged Children Study. The data included how many hours a day of TV the children watched and how many days a week they snacked while watching TV.

Specifically, they looked at the children's consumption of fruit, vegetables, sweets and sweetened soft drinks, fast food eating and skipping breakfast.

They found that watching more TV was linked with eating slightly lesser amounts of fruit and vegetables and slightly more candy and fast food (almost 1.2 times as likely). It was also linked with skipping breakfast, but the increase in this number was very small (high TV watchers were 1.06 times as likely to skip breakfast).

The increased likelihood of eating more junk food and less fruits and vegetables was modest, but these were the calculations after being adjusted for socioeconomic factors, children's computer use and their levels of physical activity.

Regardless of how much TV they actually watched, TV snackers were more likely to eat fruit than non-snackers, but they were even more likely to eat candy, drink soda or get fast food.

Again, the increases were slight (1.2 times as likely to eat candy, 1.15 times as likely to drink soda, 1.09 times as likely to get fast food). But when taken together, the picture shows TV snackers operating with a range of unhealthy eating habits.

"Television viewing was associated with a cluster of unhealthy eating behaviors in U.S. adolescents after adjustment for socioeconomic and behavioral [factors," the authors concluded.

"The relationship of television viewing with this unhealthy combination of eating behaviors may contribute to the documented relationship of television viewing with cardiometabolic risk factors," the authors wrote.

The researchers found individual differences in eating and snacking behaviors depending on the children's age, race/ethnicity and gender.

Older kids were more likely to drink soda every day than younger kids, and boys were more likely to drink it daily than girls. Black and Hispanic youths also drank soda at a higher rate compared to other ethnic groups.

The researchers could not establish that large amounts of time spent watching television caused these unhealthy eating habits, but the researchers recommended future research in this area.

"If these relationships are causal, efforts to reduce television viewing or to modify the nutritional content of advertised foods may lead to substantial improvements in adolescents' dietary intake," they wrote.

The study appeared in the May issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. The research was funded by the Intramural Research Program of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the Health Resources and Services Administration. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 7, 2012
Last Updated:
May 7, 2012