Children were within the normal range for BMI (15.9±1.2), corresponding to a BMI percentile of 61. Mothers were, on average, in their mid-30s (35.4±6.0 years), predominantly non-Hispanic white, and well educated, with 84% reporting some college education. A majority of families (76%) reported mean annual family incomes >$50,000. Mothers reported that children watched an average of 1.5 hours of TV daily, and that 33% of children reportedly ate meals or snacks while watching TV; reports ranged from occasionally to relatively often.
The results on children’s attention allocation during meals showed that children were fixated with the TV 93% of the time during lunch meals, and 96% of the time during snacks; thus, children were actively engaged with the TV program. As shown in , intake was significantly higher in the no TV condition than in the TV condition for both snack [t(24)=3.1, P<0.01] and lunch [t(24)=4.2, P<0.001] meals. A main effect of age group was evident for intake during meals; older children (≥4 years) ate significantly more than younger children (<4 years) in all but the lunch with no TV condition (). There were no significant effects of sex or weight status on children’s intakes across meals or conditions.
Figure 1 Intake differences between meals and experimental conditions for children eating lunch with and without television (TV) viewing. **Indicates intake was significantly higher in the no television conditions for both snack and lunch meals at P<0.01. (more ...)
Figure 2 Differences in lunch intakes with and without television (TV) based on children’s histories of eating during TV viewing (TVV) at home. Children who reportedly eat while watching TV at home (n=8) had higher lunch intakes in the TV condition compared (more ...)
With respect to children’s TV viewing patterns at home, results showed that children who reportedly watched more daily hours of TV ate more lunch in the TV condition (r=0.56, P<0.05). In addition, parental reports of the frequency of children’s eating during TV viewing at home were linked to higher energy intake at lunch in the TV condition (r=0.52, P<0.05). Thus, eating in front of the TV promoted higher energy intakes at lunch among children who had more experience eating while watching TV ().
The results of this study show that TV viewing can either increase or decrease preschool children’s food intakes. Children in this study ate significantly less at snack and at lunch meals while watching TV compared with meals without the presence of TV. However, children’s home TV viewing patterns, including daily TV viewing and eating while watching TV, were linked to higher energy intakes at lunch during TV viewing in the experimental setting. This finding suggests the possibility that children who are given opportunities to eat while watching TV may become less sensitive to internal cues to satiety. Additional research is needed to explore this possibility. Although results from recent studies show that eating while watching TV is linked to increased weight status in children (13
), we did not find significant links with weight status in this study. Although we are limited by our small sample, the results of this study suggest that among this group of preschool-aged children, TV viewing reduced energy intake during meals and snacks for some children. For other children, particularly children who are accustomed to eating during TV viewing, TV viewing increased intake compared with the situation in which eating occurred in the absence of TV viewing.