A parent who feeds a child in front of the television is setting up problems for the future. “But it distracts her, and she eats better,” a parent may protest. Maybe so, but food and TV are best kept separate.

Television is overstimulating. A child who needs distraction while she is eating will do far better if the entertainment is a conversation with you.

A child needs to eat in a quiet, relaxed atmosphere so she can learn to pay attention to her body when it tells her she is hungry or full. A child who doesn’t know when she is full – and just keeps eating as long as her favorite show is on – is at risk of becoming overweight.

TV, even without food added to it, is our biggest competitor for our children’s hearts and minds. Add food to TV time and you’ll make it even harder to pry your child away.

If  children get used to meals with television, they’re bound to start snacking while they watch, too. Grazing, outside of regular snack times, can interfere with eating at meals and also contribute to obesity.

Time spent in front of the TV takes away from time for physical activity, another risk factor for obesity. TV ads pressure children to pop in junk food while they watch.

TV is one contributor to a problem of epidemic proportions in the United States – childhood obesity and later related medical problems such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

Passive TV-watching, coupled with high-calorie, low-nutrition junk food and disrupted mealtimes, is setting up a serious health threat to our children. Don’t let them eat and watch TV at the same time.

Meals in front of the TV take away from time for your family to be together. Lose these opportunities for communication now, and your children may be likelier to shut you out when they are adolescents.

Make mealtimes as pleasant and enjoyable as you can. Less emphasis on the amount eaten and more on being together will help in the long run.

TURN OFF THE TV

  Declaring television (or junk foods) off-limits may work only temporarily. For a longer-range solution, encourage appealing alternatives to TV such as sports, games and hobbies.

  Children who haven’t been raised on TV are bound to find most of the shows and commercials far less interesting than the other activities they’ve grown accustomed to.

  Enlist the child’s help in the kitchen or setting the table rather than having the TV baby-sit as you prepare supper.

  If you must have a TV, keep only one in the house. Put it in a room where the family doesn’t spend much time – never in the kitchen or the child’s bedroom.

  Never eat and watch TV at the same time. Eating should be limited to mealtimes and scheduled snacks, and allowed only while sitting down at the kitchen or dining room table. You’ll be thrilled at how much easier it is to keep your house clean – though your dog may be disappointed.

  Don’t be too rigid about television. Instead of forbidding it altogether (which may work for some families but backfire for others), pick out a special show or video to watch together.

Questions or comments should be addressed to Dr. T. Berry Brazelton and Dr. Joshua Sparrow, care of The New York Times Syndicate, 620 Eighth Ave., 5th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10018. Questions may also be sent by email to:

[email protected]

– New York Times Syndicate