Eating your dinner while watching television can lead to poor eating habits, according to a recent study.
The study also established that in low-income families with pre-school children, the positive effect of eating dinner as a family tends to be negated by watching television at the same time.
"When you have the television on, people are essentially eating alone. Eating meals together and having family interactions has been associated with better food at meals. We would like to say turn the television off and speak to one another, but I don't know if that means carrots are going to fly onto the plate. But it's a good practice to be able to interact with children and family,” Live Science quoted Arlene Spark, associate professor of nutrition at Hunter College in New York City, as saying.
Bonnie Taub-Dix, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and a nutrition consultant in New York City, added: "You really need to be selective about the TV and, in this day and age, it's so rare that families even get together to have a meal that that needs to be precious time."
The study, which appears in the April issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, fundamentally confirms previous research that has found, among other things, that preschoolers who spend more time glued to the television have worse diets and that families dining together tend to have better eating habits.
"Lots of studies have found that when families eat together and presumably talk, kids eat healthier and do better, they're less likely to drink and use drugs. It's pro-social behavior," said Dr Barbara A Dennison, senior author of the study and director of the Bureau of Health Risk Reduction at the New York State Department of Health.
"It's not just having interactions but also not appreciating the food that you're eating simultaneously," Taub-Dix said. "In terms of the childhood obesity epidemic in this country, part of what contributes is not just how TV takes away from physical activity, but it's distracting, and you don't know how much you're eating. It's a double whammy."
For this study, more than 1,300 parents or guardians of children participating in New York's Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children were surveyed on how many days a week the family ate dinner together, the number of days each week the TV was turned on during dinner, and how often fruits and vegetables were served.
The study also found that Hispanic and black parents reported having the television on during dinner more often than white parents.
"There are lots of reasons for families to try to eat together," Dennison said. "I don't think people should have TVs in rooms that you eat in. There are things to do to change the home environment so it's not easy to have the TV on while eating dinner."