Associations between TV viewing at family meals and the emotional atmosphere of the meal, meal healthfulness, child dietary intake, and child weight status

Amanda C. Trofholz, Allan D. Tate, Michael H. Miner, Jerica M. Berge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Background Research on family meals has demonstrated that family meals are protective for many aspects of child and adolescent health. It is unclear whether distractions at family meals, such as watching TV, are associated with child weight and weight-related behaviors, the emotional atmosphere at the meal, or family meal healthfulness. Methods Direct observational and objective data were collected on primarily low-income and minority families (n = 120) with 6–12 year old children. Data were collected during home visits and included 24-hr dietary recalls, anthropometry, and video-recorded family meals. Video-recorded family meals were coded to assess the presence of TV, whether the family was paying attention to the TV, family group enjoyment and the dietary healthfulness of the foods served at family meals. Results The presence of TV was negatively associated with the dietary healthfulness and emotional atmosphere of the meal and the child's overall dietary quality. It was positively associated with serving fast food for family meals. Those families who were paying attention to the TV had significantly worse meal dietary healthfulness and were more likely to have fast food at family meals compared to those who were not paying attention. No significant findings were found between the presence of TV at family meals and child overweight status. Conclusions Study results show that TV is frequently present at family meals. Even if families are not paying attention to the TV, it appears that simply having the TV on as background noise is associated with deleterious outcomes. In addition to increasing family meals, families should be given guidance on turning off the TV and making the family meal a time to connect with one another.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)361-366
Number of pages6
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Research is supported by grant number R21DK091619 from the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Disease (PI: Jerica Berge). Content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development or the National Institutes of Health.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Elsevier Ltd


  • Dietary quality
  • Direct observation
  • Emotional atmosphere
  • Family meals
  • TV viewing


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