Want your kid to eat a healthier diet? Turn off the TV.
That’s the key finding of a new national study that indicates watching a lot of television promotes unhealthy eating habits in U.S. children and teens.
The research, published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, suggests kids who spent a lot of time in front of the TV may be vulnerable to advertising for unhealthy foods and snack on junk food more often than those who limit viewing.
Researchers from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development also found heavy TV watchers tend to skip more meals, eat fewer fresh produce and consume more fast foods, soda, sweets and salty snacks.
"Television viewing time was associated with lower odds of consuming fruit or vegetables daily and higher odds of consuming candy and sugar-sweetened soda daily, skipping breakfast at least one day per week and eating at a fast food restaurant at least one day per week,” the researchers reported. “The relationship of TVV with this unhealthy combination of eating behaviors may contribute to the documented relationship of [TV viewing] with [heart and diabetes] risk factors."
The authors added that improving the “nutritional content of advertised foods” on TV could improve kids’ diets.
For the study, researchers tracked the diets and TV habits of nearly 13,000 students in the fifth to 10th grades. They used information from the 2009-2010 Health Behavior in School-Aged Children Study, a survey of adolescents conducted every four years in the U.S.
They found the odds of eating fruits and vegetables daily were higher among younger students, girls and whites. Older kids, boys and black youths were also more likely to eat sweets and drink soda on a daily basis. Skipping breakfast was more common among older students, girls and non-white students.
The researchers noted studies show most young Americans don’t eat recommended levels of whole fruit, whole grains, legumes and dark green or orange vegetables, and exceed guidelines for consumption of fat, sodium and added sugar that can increase the risk of obesity and chronic disease.