Millions of Americans every day spend mealtimes tuned in to the TV, paying more attention to what’s on the screen than what’s going into our bodies. Eating mindlessly in this way is a bad habit associated with obesity. It’s especially concerning when pregnant women watch television while eating, according to a study recently presented to the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS).

Dr. Mary Jo Messito presented the findings of her study to the PAS at its annual meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, on May 6. Messito is project director of a study called Starting Early. The program provides intervention tools to prevent early childhood obesity in low-income Hispanic families getting care at the New York University School of Medicine’s Bellevue Hospital Center.

Eating in front of the TV is especially alarming during pregnancy, according to Messito, because women who get into the habit during pregnancy are more likely to feed their infants in front of the TV, too. The children are more likely to grow up wanting mealtime companionship from television. The habit becomes ingrained at a very early age and, as with adults, dining with TV promotes excess pounds.

Messito’s study involved 189 women enrolled during pregnancy and followed them until their babies were 3 years old. As part of the study, each woman:

  • Received nutritional counseling on an individual basis during pregnancy and after childbirth.
  • Participated in parenting support groups led by nutritionists, and
  • Received an educational video and reference materials.

When each woman reached the third trimester of her pregnancy, she was asked how often she ate a meal while watching television. When each woman’s baby was 3 months old, the women were asked how often they fed their babies in front of the TV.

The researchers discovered:

  • Mealtime TV during pregnancy led to a five-times greater likelihood that a woman’s baby would be fed while watching TV than women who did not watch TV while eating during pregnancy.
  • 71% of the mothers acknowledged eating some meals while watching TV during pregnancy.
  • 33% reported feeding their babies with the TV on.

The women most likely to expose their infant to TV during mealtimes were:

No connection was found between how much total time throughout the day — mealtime or not — a pregnant woman spent watching TV and her baby’s television exposure.

Messito says few studies have made the connection between a woman’s behaviors and habits during pregnancy and her TV viewing habits during mealtimes. She says identifying these behaviors “will help early childhood obesity prevention efforts” that promote mindful feeding while limiting a baby’s exposure to TV.

Source: “Mealtime TV Viewing During Pregnancy May Set Stage for Childhood Obesity.” ScienceNewsline Medicine. ScienceNewsline. May 6, 2014. Web. May 15, 2014.