Karen Savage | CWK Network
"When we watch TV or have other activities going on when we're eating, we tend to overeat. We don't really pay attention to our food. We're paying attention to the TV. And eating too many calories over time can lead to being overweight, obese, possibly diabetes."
- Kimberly Glenn, registered dietician -
With a bowl of popcorn and some juice, the Delean family settles in front of the television for another relaxing summer evening.
But what happens when the kids start watching the show? Nine-year-old Hari's eyes glaze over. She even drops the popcorn before it reaches her mouth. She's zoning out.
Hari's mom has seen it happen before. "You can see them eating and dropping the food and going with the empty spoon and 'Oh!' grab it again. It's funny. I don't know if it's wrong or bad, but it's funny," says Ximena Delean.
But according to Kimberly Glenn, a registered dietician, this kind of eating can have negative effects.
"When we watch TV or have other activities going on when we're eating, we tend to overeat," explains Glenn. "We don't really pay attention to our food. We're paying attention to the TV. And eating too many calories over time can lead to being overweight, obese, possibly diabetes."
New research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that elementary school kids consumed 20 percent of their calories in front of the television. And those calories were often empty.
Glenn says, "When people eat in front of the TV, they're going to pick foods that are maybe not as healthy. They may just eat out of a box of cookies or crackers or chips."
One strategy, Glenn says, is for parents to serve snacks in age-appropriate portions – instead of letting children eat straight out of a bag or box. Another way parents can keep the calorie count down is simple: trade the junk food for something healthier.
Three-year-old Cloe says, "I eat chicken and rice."
Big sister Hari agrees that junk food snacks just aren't an option in her house. "Usually I eat fruit. We usually buy cherries, grapes. We don't really buy so much junk food, because my parents they say 'No!'" she says.
But most importantly, experts say, parents should know when to turn the TV off. Hari and Cloe's mom makes sure they stay active. "If the weather is nice we can go biking. We always try to do something other than watch TV," she says.
And that's the way Hari likes it. "Well, I just like to get out and get dirty, kick the ball – actually do something other than TV sometimes," she says.