How TV Can Influence What Your Child Eats

Reviewed By Jill Kohn, MS, RDN, LDN
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TV time can take a toll on your child's nutrition. Why? Many kids spend a fair amount of time in front of the television and research shows they are easily swayed to choose the foods they see advertised. Some of the foods shown in commercials don't do them any favors when it comes to feeding their growing brains and bodies. Many are high in solid fats, added sugars, sodium and/or calories and they often lack vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber.

Each day while watching TV, children typically see 10 to 13 advertisements that promote some type of food or beverage. More than ninety percent of these advertisements have been shown to be high in ingredients that are recommended for children to limit. In fact, even with the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, an industry-based voluntary effort to improve the advertising of foodstuff targeted towards children, more than half of the advertisements that were approved in 2014 did not meet the nutrition recommendations established by several government agencies.

How can you tame TV temptations and promote healthier eating?

  • Avoid watching TV while eating. As a family, agree not to watch TV (or use other electronic devices) during meals or while snacking. Eating together regularly without distractions also offers the opportunity to promote healthful eating and family bonding.
  • Watch children's programs without advertisements. Consider buying or renting DVDs for children or recording programs in order to fast forward through the commercials. Watching shows on public television stations is another option.
  • Spend time together learning about foods. Try growing a garden, visiting a farmer's market or browsing the produce section at the grocery store. Older children can be taught how to use the Nutrition Facts label and help with shopping for healthier foods.
  • Let kids help in the kitchen. Young children have a willingness to learn and a genuine desire to help. This is a great time to introduce food safety, such as washing hands before handling food, and assigning simple tasks, like setting the table or tearing lettuce leaves for a salad.
  • Set limits around screen time. Children of all ages are spending more time in front of TV and other electronic devices. Although, some of this time involves educational activities, there is still concern about how it could affect their health and development. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than one hour per day of screen time for children 2 to 5 years old and the use of a family media plan for school-age children.
  • Be a good role model. Kids learn so much simply by observing others. As a parent, choosing healthier foods and beverages, while limiting the use of electronic devices can help to reinforce the habits you are trying to encourage in your children.

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