Watching TV Makes Kids Fat
There’s a lot to be said about how your daily activities will affect outcomes like how overweight you might get. And I don’t mean just your eating habits, I mean anything you do that even seems unrelated to weight gain on the surface. That might sound a little suspect, but think about what you do for work. Many people in office settings might tend to snack because of easy access. Or think about what happens when you go out more often for social activities. It’s a mentally strong person indeed who can avoid increasing calories when hanging out more with friends or during the holidays.
Conditions that cause overeating don’t get enough attention in the scientific literature. There’s a lot of focus on diets themselves, but less on what triggers eating to begin with. A recent study in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity looked at a few of these factors.
Namely the researchers in this study examined the effects on kids of skipping meals and watching television while eating. These kids averaged eleven years old, but I think the results are compelling for people of any age. After all, adults are probably just better at tricking themselves into thinking they watch less TV than children do, so the results might be even more apt for adults.
First, the researchers found that skipping breakfast or dinner increased the odds the kids were overweight. With the recent popularity of intermittent fasting, it bears mentioning that the act of skipping a meal itself doesn’t make you more likely to be fat, no matter the dogma about the importance of breakfast. Because the data was self-reported, it’s probable that kids who say they skip meals are also those that replace it with over-processed garbage and sugary drinks.
I could go on and on about skipping meals or not, and the effects that has on health and bodyweight, but the real compelling stuff in this study was the part about watching TV. Children who never watched TV during lunch and dinner were less likely to be overweight.
Now we can easily say that this is for socioeconomic reasons and there is probably some truth to that. Maybe kids with less money are both more likely to watch TV and also more likely to eat unhealthy foods. There might not be any real cause and effect, but I think we should all look at our children and ourselves and consider the alternatives. Perhaps sitting in front of the TV encourages eating for a longer period of time or causes a reduced sensitivity to feelings of satiety. The researchers note that a prevalence of commercials showing energy-dense food might actually increase the effect of watching TV on body weight, so economic reasons might not be enough to explain the entire effect.
As I noted earlier, studies like this are difficult to do right but point to a higher truth. If our goal is to be healthy, we need to think about more than just what we are eating.
1. Frøydis N Vik, et. al., “Associations between eating meals, watching TV while eating meals and weight status among children, ages 10--12 years in eight European countries: the ENERGY cross-sectional study,” International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2013, 10:58
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