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Watching Television while Eating: Associations with Dietary Intake and Weight Status among a Diverse Sample of Young Children

Published:April 25, 2019DOI:



      Television (TV) watching at family meals has been associated with poorer dietary quality and weight outcomes in children. Most research has been limited to family meals, overlooking the influence of TV at any meal.


      This study assesses how often children are eating meals at home while watching TV, the association between child dietary intake while watching TV during meals eaten at home and whether the association depends on meal type (eg, breakfast) or child race/ethnicity, and whether the number of meals consumed while watching TV at home is associated with overall child dietary quality or weight status.


      The Family Matters study utilized a cross-sectional design and was conducted between 2015 and 2016.


      Three 24-hour dietary recalls were conducted on children aged 5 to 7 years (n=150; 25 each from non-Hispanic white, African American, Latino, Native American, Somali, and Hmong households).

      Main outcome measures

      Main outcomes of this study were dietary intake at meals, overall dietary quality, and child weight status.

      Statistical analysis performed

      Conditional fixed effects estimators were used to address correlated error terms to model within-person variation between TV and dietary intake and race/ethnicity differences in child dietary outcomes.


      TV was watched during 30% of meals eaten at home, which differed significantly by race/ethnicity (P<0.001). Although effect sizes were small, TV watching at meals was associated with unhealthier intake of some foods groups (eg, increased sugar-sweetened beverages and chips/crackers and decreased fruits), dependent on the meal occasion (eg, snacks). However, TV watching during meals at home was not significantly associated with dietary intake for other food groups. These associations did not depend on race/ethnicity. An association between number of meals consumed while watching TV with overall dietary quality or weight status was not found.


      Although more research is needed, results suggest TV watching while eating meals at home is relatively common, depends on race/ethnicity, and that TV watching at some meal occasions is associated with child intake of certain food groups, with a majority being unhealthy.


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      A. C. Trofholz is a research associate, Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.


      A. Tate is a graduate research assistant, Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.


      D. Neumark-Sztainer is a professor, Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.


      K. Loth is an assistant professor, Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.


      J. M. Berge is a certified family life educator, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and an associate professor, Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.