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Highlights from the April 2006 Journal of the American Dietetic Association

American Dietetic Association

Eating while Watching TV: What Is the Effect on Pre-school Children?
Watching television while eating affects pre-school children's food intake in different ways, depending on how commonly the child eats in front of the TV, according to University of Pennsylvania researchers. They looked at "the effects of television viewing on children's lunch and snack intake in one condition when the children watched a 22-minute cartoon video on TV, and in another without the TV."

The 24 children, all 3 to 5 years old, were observed - with their parents' consent - at a day-care center, and parents supplied information for their kids' eating habits at home. Overall, the researchers found, the children ate significantly less while watching television, except for pre-schoolers whose parents say are accustomed to eating in front of the TV at home. Those children were likely to eat more than pre-schoolers with less "prior experience with eating during TV viewing."

"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," the researchers write. "To promote self-regulation of energy intake in young children, parents and caregivers should be advised against providing opportunities for children to eat during TV viewing."

Adolescent Dieting May Predict Obesity and Eating Disorders
Dieting and "unhealthful weight-control behaviors" among adolescents can predict the development of eating disorders in years to come, according to researchers at the University of Minnesota.

In a follow-up to a 1999 study of more than 2,500 junior high and high school students, the researchers found that students who engaged in unhealthy weight-control behaviors such as dieting and binge eating were three times more likely five years later to be overweight than adolescents who did not engage in those behaviors. They were also at significantly increased risk for binge eating with loss of control as well as extreme weight-control behaviors such as self-induced vomiting and the use of diet pills, laxatives and diuretics.

"Findings from this study suggest that dieting, and particularly unhealthful weight control, is either causing weight gain, disordered eating or eating disorders; serving as an early marker for the development of these later problems or is associated with some other unknown variable ... that is leading to these problems," the researchers write. They add that "unknown variables" may include personality characteristics or genetic factors.

"None of the behaviors being used by adolescents (in 1999) for weight-control purposes predicted weight loss," the researchers write.

"Of greater concern were the negative outcomes associated with dieting and the use of unhealthful weight-control behaviors, including significant weight gain. These findings demonstrate that these behaviors should not be viewed as innocuous and should be addressed in primary and secondary prevention efforts."

Adolescent and Parent Views of Family Meals
Meals can offer families time for socialization, structure and building a sense of togetherness, as well as giving parents the opportunity to model healthful eating habits for their children. As part of the study discussed above on obesity and eating disorders among adolescents, University of Minnesota researchers compared the "family mealtime environment" from the viewpoints of both adolescents and their parents.

In surveys of more than 900 adolescents and their parents or care givers, the researchers found:

  • Family meals were perceived positively by both children and their parents.
  • Parents were more likely than their children to report the family eating five or more family meals per week.
  • Parents were also more likely to cite the importance of eating together.
  • Younger adolescents (grades 7-9) were more likely to place importance on eating together and they experience more structured mealtimes than older adolescents (grades 10-12).
  • Older adolescents experience more scheduling difficulties in scheduling family meals.
  • Adolescents were significantly more likely than their parents to say they watch television while eating dinner.

The researchers conclude: "Family meals are perceived positively by both adolescents and parents....Family meals may be a useful mechanism for enhancing family togetherness and communication and for role modeling behaviors that parents would like their children to emulate."


The Journal of the American Dietetic Association is the official research publication of the American Dietetic Association and is the premier peer-reviewed journal in the field of nutrition and dietetics.

With approximately 65,000 members, the American Dietetic Association is the nation's largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. The Chicago-based ADA serves the public by promoting optimal nutrition, health and well-being. To locate a registered dietitian in your area, visit the American Dietetic Association at

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