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Mom-to-Be's TV Habits May Affect Child's Weight

Watching during mealtime, infant feedings may set stage for childhood obesity
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In all, 71 percent of the women reported at least some mealtime TV viewing during their pregnancy. A third said their 3-month-old infants were exposed to TV during their feedings.

Women who were under age 25 were more likely to watch TV while feeding their babies than were older mothers. And women who didn't breast-feed exclusively were also more likely to turn on the TV while feeding their babies. That may be because it's more difficult to manage TV watching and breast-feeding than TV watching and bottle feeding, Messito said.

The study didn't include data on dads' TV viewing and baby-feeding habits. However, Messito said she hopes to do research on dads' influence in the future.

Messito also couldn't say if the TV viewing during mealtimes indicates the possibility of other unhealthy habits, such as low amounts of exercise. "We didn't look at that yet," she said, but added, "in general, usually excess TV viewing is associated with less physical activity."

The study results don't surprise Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington and director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children's Hospital Research Institute.

"The more TV you watch, the more likely you are to do it in all circumstances," he said. "To put the findings in perspective, we know that combining eating and TV viewing is bad. It's the primary way TV leads to increased obesity. We know that from other studies."

About one in four households has the TV on during mealtimes, said Christakis, citing other research. Overeating while viewing is common. "It appears that the visual and cognitive distractions from television override the satiety reflex [indicating fullness]," he said. "It's a problem we have known about for some time."

Messito offered some advice for expectant moms. "I try not to be dogmatic and say never [watch TV]," Messito said. However, keeping TV viewing under two hours a day during pregnancy would be wise, she said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under age 2 avoid TV and other media. Children age two years and older should be limited to one or two hours daily of entertainment media (TV, computer games, and so on), the pediatric group recommends.

While the study suggested an association between TV viewing habits and childhood obesity risk, it did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship.

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