Is TV Really That Bad?

DON'T feed your kids in front of the TV

Childhood obesity is a red-hot topic right now, and for good reason. The National Center for Health Statistics reports that about 16 percent of U.S. children are overweight -- that's an increase of 45 percent in just a decade. There's no doubt television has something to do with it, but it's not necessarily that the sedentary act of watching TV cuts down on the time kids spend exercising. Instead, researchers believe the connection has more to do with kids eating in front of the TV and the food marketing found in commercials.

Getting a child to finish his dinner is a classic parenting challenge, and TV can work wonders, which may help to explain why 53 percent of kids under 6 eat at least one meal or snack while watching TV, according to a 2004 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

"My older son used to be a very picky eater," says Georgeta Lester, of Blacksburg, Virginia, whose kids are 4 and 7. "In the mornings, the only way to get him to eat was to turn on the TV. He'd eat anything, even spinach. But I felt guilty -- I thought he wasn't processing what he was eating."

Lester's instincts are spot-on. Watching TV can interfere with a child's ability to respond to cues of fullness, potentially causing him to overeat, which may lead to weight problems, says Lori Francis, PhD, professor of biobehavioral health at Pennsylvania State University. For preschoolers who ate meals while watching television, says Francis, "we found that the TV appeared to distract them from eating. So they ate more while it was on."

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