Study sheds light on TV with dinner

Families that eat while they watch TV may be getting less nutrition, especially if they’re not eating a meal together, according to research from the University’s School of Public Health.

Researchers in the recent study used data from Project EAT, which stands for Eating Among Teens. The project is a research initiative in the department of epidemiology and community health that focuses on eating, exercising and health in adolescents.

The study found teens who ate while watching TV and didn’t sit down for dinner with their families ate fewer nutritious foods, such as vegetables. They had higher intakes of less-healthy provisions such as soft drinks and fried food compared to adolescents who ate with their families and with the TV turned off.

Although the study didn’t survey college students, it could apply to them as well, said Shira Feldman, public health specialist and one of the study’s authors. She recommends sharing a meal with fellow students or roommates.

“I’d say nine times out of 10, if you’re going to take that time to sit down together, you’re probably going to make it a better meal Ö because you made an effort for it,” Feldman said.

But it can be hard for students to actually take time to eat meals together, or to eat healthy in general. Graphic design sophomore Kelly Street, who lives on campus, said nutrition should be important for students, but it’s not.

“Overall, it’s not important right now because it’s just, ‘eat what you have,’ ” she explained. She said it’s hard to keep nutritious foods around because they don’t keep for long.

Even though there are no large grocery stores on campus, Feldman encourages students to take advantage of what the University has to offer, such as the Farmers Market or University Dining Services’ new initiatives centering on sustainability, health and wellness.

Many different studies like Feldman’s have been published using Project EAT data.

The project initially surveyed students from public middle schools and public high schools in the Twin Cities area in the late ’90s.

Students were asked questions about diet, TV habits and family meal time. Feldman said the idea for the study came about because researchers know watching TV while eating is prevalent in today’s society. She wanted to use the Project EAT data to see if it affected nutrition in teens.

Nicole Larson, research associate in the division of epidemiology and community health, was not directly involved with the study Feldman worked on, but explained in an e-mail “the purpose of (Project EAT) is to inform the development of interventions to help young people eat healthful foods, be physically active, and feel better about their bodies.”

Marla Eisenberg, assistant professor in the division of adolescent health and medicine who was involved with the study, said this project is the only one of its exact kind, but other universities are studying nutrition in adolescents around the country.

Feldman said she feels it is important to study adolescents because they’re in an important stage of life, figuring out who they want to be and developing identities separate from their parents.

“I think adolescence often falls into the forgotten group,” Feldman said. “I think to so many people, they seem like a mystery because it is such a confusing time.”

Feldman said she hopes this study will encourage health professionals to promote family meals with the TV turned off.

She also said even if the TV stays on, sitting down together at mealtimes, whether with roommates or family members, is the most important.

The research study was published in the September and October edition of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

-Freelance editor Marni Ginther welcomes comments at [email protected]