Kids and TV: Tuned in to unhealthy food

U. MICHIGAN (US)— Preschoolers who spend time in front of the television are more prone to eat sweets and salty foods than fruits and vegetables.

Published in the Journal of Children and Media, the three-year study used data from 423 parents and 354 children–ages two to four–in the Midwest. Parents completed a questionnaire about their children’s daily viewing habits and Internet and video game usage and their physical measurements.

Researchers say studies like this paint a compelling picture of how TV exposure may contribute to obesity in children.


“This study captured a moment in children’s lives when TV viewing may be urging them toward (poor eating) habits, before those habits culminate in accelerated BMI growth,” says Kristen Harrison, professor of communication studies and the University of Michigan.

Parents and caregivers should be mindful of preschoolers’ TV viewing and dietary habits before the child becomes overweight, Harrison says. Childhood obesity in the United States has become a national priority, especially among 2- and 5-year-olds.

The researchers looked at three parenting styles: restrictive, which sets limits on programming content and viewing time; instructive, which involves communication about the TV content between the parent and child; and social co-viewing, which is a non-critical method and indicates parents endorse the content.

The parents who were most strict about TV viewing time and content were the most successful in changing the eating habits of the preschoolers, the research showed. The other two types of parenting styles had little effect on changing unhealthy eating patterns.

The findings indicate that TV was the most popular medium for children, over Internet and video games, with more than 10 hours watched weekly. But when combined with other media, the average weekly exposure was 18.8 hours per week.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children limit the weekly exposure to 14 hours per week. Janet Liechty, an assistant professor of social work at the University of Illinois is a co-author of the study.

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