Side Effects of Watching TV While Eating on You & Your Child

Is Watching TV While Eating Harming You and Your Kids?

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Rashmi Prakash (Psychologist/Psychotherapist)
View more Psychologist/Psychotherapist Our Panel of Experts

Screen addiction is common in children these days, and most parents today complain that their kids spend a lot of time in front of the television. If you have a fussy eater, chances are you let him watch his favourite cartoon on television or the laptop to get him to eat what’s served on his plate. We get you, parents, and you must do what you must to bring your child to eat. But resorting to screen time to get your child to eat food may do him more harm than good. Watching TV while eating is a common practice in many households. However, this seemingly harmless habit may negatively impact both adults and children. For children, eating while watching TV may also interfere with developing healthy eating habits and proper mealtime behaviour (1). If you and your kids eat in front of a screen, keep reading to know more about the effects of watching TV while eating.

Why Eating While Watching Television Could Be a Bad Idea?

If your meal time involves screen time too, you must understand the potential problems it may cause. Here are some issues that may arise if you are watching TV while eating (4).

1. Overeating and Obesity

People tend to eat more while watching TV, ignoring what is served on their plate and how much they should eat. As a result, they end up eating more. Overeating can eventually lead to obesity. Children also overeat while watching their favourite cartoons. They may demand unhealthy snacks too, which is a cause of obesity in children.

2. Distraction

When eating food and watching TV, the brain is distracted, sends out the wrong signals to the body, and does not process the taste or satisfaction of the palette.

3. Unhealthy Eating Habits

Children tend to develop unhealthy eating habits while watching their favourite cartoons on television or online. They gorge on unhealthy snacks while concentrating on the TV, and munching on snacks while watching television soon becomes a habit (2).

4. Lower Metabolism

Watching TV while eating lowers the metabolic rate, leading to the food being digested slower and the fat being burned slowly. If your child eats in front of the television and is not physically active, he is likely to have a low metabolism.

5. Indigestion

Eating while watching TV can also lead to indigestion. When you eat while watching TV, you cannot process how much and what you eat. You may overeat as a result, which could cause digestion problems.

6. No Family Interaction

If everyone is more interested in watching TV while eating, the conversation families usually enjoy during meals will not occur, and there will be less time for family bonding.

Kids watching tv

Is Your Kid Only Eating While Watching TV?

Children who are fussy eaters may eat if they are allowed to watch their favourite shows on television. The distraction makes it easier for parents to get them to eat. Unfortunately, this can form a habit, and your child may not want to eat without the television. Children can be weaned off this habit, and while they may fuss and throw tantrums at first, they will eventually learn to eat without watching TV. If your child eats only in front of the television, find out how you can get him rid of this habit.

Tips to Keep Your Child Away From the TV While He Eats

Is your toddler watching TV while eating? Here are some tips on how to stop your toddler from watching TV while eating:

  • When trying to stop your child from watching television at mealtimes, ensure you are not distracted by the TV, mobile or laptop (3). Give complete attention to your child and keep the gadgets away so that he will know that mealtimes are about food, family, and lots of bonding!
  • If your child already has the habit of watching TV while eating, you can get him rid of this habit with the trick we are about to tell you. The trick is to feed your child when hungry but not starving. When your child is hungry, he is less likely to throw tantrums or ask for his favourite cartoon. You must ensure you keep his snack time within their mealtimes. If your child is hungry, he will be okay with whether he has the TV in front of him.
  • Take it slow with your little one. You can start by having a five-minute mealtime without TV and gradually increase the time. If your child throws a fit and does not eat enough at mealtimes because of no screen time, it’s okay. Don’t give in just yet. You can always give him a snack later, but ensure it is not done in front of the TV. This will help break the association that your child has formed with eating and TV.
  • Ensure you have meals together as a family and nobody watches TV or uses a phone while eating. By observing you, your child will learn that mealtimes are for family and that they should not use phones or watch television while eating (5).
  • If nothing works and your child refuses to eat without the TV, you can consult a therapist or professional for help.

FAQs

1. How can I help my child understand the importance of mindful eating?

To help your child understand mindful eating, lead by example; children learn a lot from observing their parents. Eat meals together as a family without distractions like phones or TVs, and demonstrate mindful eating habits.

2. Can watching TV during meals affect my child’s sleep?

Yes, watching TV during meals can affect your child’s sleep by disrupting bedtime routines, suppressing melatonin production, and causing digestive issues.

It may be hard to stop your child from watching television while eating, but it’s not impossible. Don’t let this issue become a habit. And if your child already has the habit of watching TV while eating, wean him off gradually with the help of the tips mentioned above. Remember that our lives are hectic these days, and mealtimes are the only way to spend time with our loved ones and bond with them. So make sure you and your child enjoy your mealtimes together sans television and gadgets. A family that eats together, laughs together, stays together!

References/Resources:

1. Duchene.L; Probing Question: Does eating while watching TV harm kids?; PennState; https://www.psu.edu/news/research/story/probing-question-does-eating-while-watching-tv-harm-kids/; August 2006

2. Jusienė. R, Urbonas. V, Laurinaitytė. I, et al.; Screen Use During Meals Among Young Children: Exploration of Associated Variables; PubMed Central; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6843261/; October 2019

3. Food and Media: Not a Healthy Mix; American Academy of Pediatrics; https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/Media/Pages/Food-and-TV-Not-a-Healthy-Mix.aspx

4. Hill. D. L; Why to Avoid TV for Infants & Toddlers; American Academy of Pediatrics; https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/Media/Pages/Why-to-Avoid-TV-Before-Age-2.aspx

5. Babies need humans, not screens; UNICEF Parenting; https://www.unicef.org/parenting/child-development/babies-screen-time

Also Read:

Influence of Advertising on Kids
Harmful Effects of Gadgets on Children
How Cartoons Affect Child’s Behaviour and Development

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