Television's Impact on Eating Habits

Families, Food and Fitness November 19, 2009 Print Friendly and PDF

Television and computers are a part of everyday life for most people. They can be a good source of entertainment, a convenient way of getting information or products, doing homework or business, or just communicating with others. However, as people spend more and more time in front of the TV or computer screen, there can also be some negative consequences.

On average, children in the United States spend more than 6 hours a day watching TV, DVDs, computers, or video games. Studies suggest that greater time spent watching TV is linked to increased body weight, among both children and adults. This may be a result of replacing more active pursuits with sedentary screen time or eating greater amounts of food due to paying attention to the screen rather than to what we are eating.

child eating popcorn

Eating habits may also change through the influence of advertisements. This is especially important for children because they see tens of thousands of TV advertisements per year; many of these are for foods such as sugar-sweetened cereal, candy, sugar-sweetened beverages, and fast food. Additionally, more and more children now see food advertisements through the Internet. As a result, children are likely to request high-fat, high-calorie foods that are heavily advertised.

Tips to Avoid Negative Impact of TV on Eating Habits

  • Limit screen time. Experts recommend that parents limit screen time (TV, videos, video games, and computer use for fun) to 1 to 2 hours per day for children older than 2 years, and no screen time for younger children.
  • Watch with your children. Help them understand that advertisers are trying to sell products, often products that are high-fat, high-calorie foods.
  • Don't eat in front of the TV. Separate eating and watching TV, and turn off the TV during family meals.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.