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Excessive TV Viewing Linked to Poor Eating Habits in Children

The more a 3-year-old watches television, the more he or she consumes sugary drinks, and extra calories, Harvard researchers// said today.

“For every one-hour increase in TV viewing per day, we found higher intakes of sugar-sweetened beverages including juice (one extra serving per week) and total calories (46.3 more kcal/day)," said Sonia Miller, B.A., lead author of the study and a student at the Harvard Medical School.

Miller and her colleagues based their research on questionnaires from mothers of 1,203 children enrolled at birth in Project Viva, a study of childhood nutrition in Massachusetts funded by the National Institutes of Health. Just as more TV watching was associated with increased intakes of less healthful foods and nutrients, the researchers said it was also associated with decreased intakes of more healthful foods and nutrients, including fruits and vegetables, calcium and dietary fiber.

“Although 46 calories a day doesn’t sound like much, it can make a difference in weight over time," said Matthew Gillman, M.D., S.M., senior author and associate professor of ambulatory care and prevention and director of the Obesity Prevention Program for Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.

“Studies estimate that you can explain the amount of excess weight gain in the U.S. adolescent population over the past 10 years or so with the addition of only 150 calories a day. If this “energy gap” also applies to younger children, then each hour of daily TV or video watching could explain about 1/3 of that increase," Gillman said.

This study shows that poor dietary habits — both more adverse practices and fewer healthy ones such as fruit and vegetable intake — are associated with increased TV or video viewing, patterns associated with obesity and cardiovascular problems, he said.

Furthermore, these trends were found after researchers controlled for possible confounders such as ma
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