Turning Off TV While Eating Family Meals May Lower Obesity Rate


Looking to keep obesity at bay? Eat more home-cooked meals and keep that TV off during dinner time. New research says that adults who never watched TV during meals and those who ate home-cooked meals had less incidence of obesity than individuals who did both.

“How often you are eating family meals may not be the most important thing. It could be that what you are doing during these meals matters more,” said study lead author Rachel Tumin, survey and population health analyst manager at the Ohio Colleges of Medicine Government Resource Center.

Credit: USDA/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

The study, which was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, also put a spotlight on the structure of family meals. Meaning that what you do during mealtime is just as important as how often you engage in family, home-cooked meals; the research showed that frequency of family meals didn’t make much of a difference at all.

Obesity was as common in adults who ate family meals one or two days a week as it was in those who ate family meals every day,” said Tumin, who conducted the study as part of her Ph.D. dissertation. “Regardless of family meal frequency, obesity was less common when meals were eaten with the television off and when meals were cooked at home.”

When adults engaged in the dual healthy practice — preparing meals at home and turning off the TV and videos — that’s when the lowest rates of obesity were found.

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“This highlights the importance of thinking critically about what is going on during those meals, and whether there might be opportunities to turn the TV off or do more of your own food preparation,” added Tumin.

Using the 2012 Ohio Medicaid Assessment Survey, which is a telephone survey, 12,842 study participants said they had eaten at least one family meal one week before the interview. Thirty-five percent of that group said they ate family meals some days, while 13 percent said they participated in family meals only a few days per week. All in all, that accounted for more than half of the total study participants.

A higher obesity rate was found among those who watched TV during mealtimes. Credit: Magnus D/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

For the purposes of the study, anyone with a body mass index at 30 or above was considered obese, and the group of obese individuals accounted for one-third of the study participants. One-third of the obese group admitted they regularly watched TV or videos during family mealtimes. And 36 percent said they never engaged in entertainment during mealtime.

Eating meals prepared at home also has other far-reaching benefits. In addition to not contributing to obesity, engaging in family mealtime also helps to connect and bond family members in a social and emotional way. Preparing home-cooked meals also encourages better overall food and diet choices, which in turn helps to lower the chances that children will become obese. Previous studies show links between adolescents who watch TV during family mealtime and eating less healthy foods.

Related: Screen Time Could Lead to Increased Risk of Diabetes in Children