TV dinners are bad for health, experts claim

By Amelia Wade

Jessica, Caitlin, 2, and Andrew Miller eat with the TV off.  Photo / Steven McNicholl
Jessica, Caitlin, 2, and Andrew Miller eat with the TV off. Photo / Steven McNicholl

More than half of New Zealanders eat dinner in front of the television three or more nights a week, while almost a quarter admit to indulging in the habit every night, a new survey says.

Experts say the habit damages health - people who eat in front of the television are more likely to be obese as they're distracted from how much they're consuming.

Clinical nutritionist Linda Outhwaite said: "We miss out on the taste and texture as the food is consumed without much focus and usually clean our plate absent-mindedly whether we are hungry or not.

"Watching television is often associated with high-calorie but nutrient-poor food and often the fridge or pantry are trawled, during the ad breaks, for the next thing we can pop into our mouths."

Children and teenagers miss out on a meaningful aspect of family life if they're glued to the screen during dinner-time, said Sue Beresford, the editor of Food magazine, which commissioned the survey.

"Kids learn from their parents - if children are glued to the television, they're missing out on a major part of family life," she said.

Research commissioned by the Families Commission last year concluded teenagers who sit down to family meals were less likely to be depressed or take risks with drugs, alcohol and sex.

Young people who ate with their parents reported better connectedness and better communication.

The report concluded that the sharing of meals together characterised healthy family environments.

Jessica and Andrew Millar sit down and have dinner with their 2-year-old daughter, Caitlin, every night for half an hour. Mrs Millar said the tradition was important because it was a good opportunity to share what they'd done throughout the day as well as teaching Caitlin about table manners and etiquette.

"The TV's paused so I can watch my Masterchef afterwards, it's not on in the background," Mrs Millar said.

The unscientific survey was based on 515 online responses from readers.

- NZ Herald

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