May 10 Children and teens who watch a lot of
television are less likely to get their fruits and vegetables
and more likely to snack on candy or drink soda every day,
according to a survey of close to 13,000 U.S. students.
The link to poor eating habits remained even after the
researchers, whose findings appeared in the Archives of
Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, took into account how much
exercise kids typically got as well as how often they snacked
while in front of the television.
Though the findings weren't particularly surprising,
researchers couldn't tell which came first, the extra TV or poor
eating habits. Thus, the study alone can't prove that watching
too much TV causes children to make poor diet choices.
But it does jibe with past research showing that when
children have their TV time cut back, they tend to eat less and
may lose weight, the researchers aid.
"It certainly is consistent with the idea that TV is maybe
adversely affecting dietary intake and food choices," said Leah
Lipsky, who worked on the new study at the Eunice Kennedy
Shriver national Institute of Child Health and Human
Development, along with colleague Ronald Iannotti.
Previous studies have also suggested that young people who
spend more time in front of the television are more likely to be
overweight or obese. One explanation is that advertisements
promoting fast food and sweets during kids' programming may be
driving youth towards unhealthy foods, experts have said.
The survey looked at a nationally-representative group of
12,642 private and public school students who watched an average
of two and a half hours of TV each day.
The researchers found that for every extra hour of daily TV
watching reported by children from roughly age 10 to 16, they
were five percent less likely to eat vegetables every day and
eight percent less likely to get daily fruit.
Each extra average hour of TV also meant kids were 18
percent more likely to say they ate candy each day, 24 percent
more likely to drink soda at least daily and 14 percent more
likely to go to fast food restaurants once a week or more. That
was after taking into account survey participants' age, gender,
race and how well-off their families were.
"The effect of television is extending beyond just when
they're snacking and watching television," Iannotti told Reuters
That means it's important both for parents to limit TV time
- and thus exposure to food-related commercials - and to make
sure healthy snacks are available when children are watching TV
or otherwise engaged in "screen time" in front of a computer, he
(Reporting from New York by Genevra Pittman at Reuters Health;
editing by Elaine Lies and Bob Tourtellotte)