Keep Food and Media Separate
Turn back the clock to when you were 3 years old. Sit down to a “satisfying” snack; half banana, sliced cheese and crackers with ice water before snuggling up on a comfortable couch to watch your favorite show- Elmo’s World. You notice two bowls in front of the couch: one filled with bear-shaped graham crackers and the other with corn chips. Throughout the 14-minute show, nine commercials appear advertising corn chips. Despite feeling satisfied, you naturally indulge in the snacks in front of you. Which snack did you eat more of?
This was the premise for the first study of its kind where researchers investigated the influence of food advertisements on eating habits in preschoolers, ages 2 to 5 years. All participants enjoyed the same snack and most reported not feeling hungry prior to the show. Despite the internal satiety cue, all of the children ate the snack in front of them. Those that were exposed to the corn chip commercials ate more of the corn chips than the graham crackers. This suggests that even a little exposure to a food, or food brand, through TV can prime a young child’s eating habits and lead to excess energy intake. So, what can we [parents and caregivers] do to prevent the consequences of this exposure?
Keep food at the table. Food and media are non-compatible activities that lead to distracted dining and an unhealthful pattern that culminates in poor attention to hunger and satiety cues. It is thought that the environmental cues from the media (commercials, food references, etc.) with the tendency to relax and separate oneself from reality when watching TV leads to a mental disengagement where individuals mindlessly eat. The problem is not watching TV, but rather eating without paying attention to the food’s taste, texture, amount, etc.
We also have the opportunity to intervene and lay a solid foundation for not only healthy eating habits, but also media usage. Media can have great utility when it is used to learn but can also be a deterrent to quality family time.
The American Academy of Pediatrics released a new policy statement related to media in October, 2016. This statement reiterates the screen time recommendations, based on a person’s age.
- Children <18 months: Screen time is discouraged.
- Children 18-24 months: Screen time is discouraged except for high-quality programming/apps and it is best to use media together as a family.
- Children 2-5 years: Limit screen use to one hour a day of high-quality programming, and co-view with children.
- Children >5 years: Limit screen use to less than 2 hours daily and continue to encourage high-quality programming and viewing media together as a family.
Overall, one cannot mindfully eat amidst media distractions. We have the opportunity to teach our children and families to truly enjoy their food by savoring the smell, flavor and texture in a quiet environment. We have the chance to role model healthful eating behaviors and appropriate media use, to help preserve not only our waistlines but our families.