Does Watching TV During Pregnancy Increase the Risk for Childhood Obesity?
In a new study that seems straight from the “mommy guilt” files, television watching during pregnancy may predict—of all things—your baby’s risk for become obese during childhood.
Ah, the relief I would feel at the end of a long day teaching when I could come home and plop my mama-to-be body on the couch, elevate my (very swollen) feet, and flip on my DVR-ed stash of Real Housewives episodes. Towards the end of pregnancy, I would stay right there on the couch for most of the evening, eating whatever take-out my husband decided to order. My alarm clock went off at 5 AM every day and I got plenty of activity running around after my students. By the time 4 PM rolled around, I was exhausted. It was like every instinct I had was telling me it was okay, just this once, to go into couch potato mode.
But were my instincts wrong? In a new study that seems straight from the “mommy guilt” files, television watching during pregnancy may predict—of all things—your baby’s risk for become obese during childhood.
Sound like a stretch? Here’s the scoop: according to new research presented earlier this month before the Pediatric Academic Societies’ annual meeting, scientists relayed evidence that pregnant women who watch television while eating are also more likely to sit in front of the TV while feeding their infant. The link between these behaviors and childhood obesity appears to be twofold: TV watching during meals is associated with poorer quality prenatal diets for moms-to-be; and mothers pay less attention to whether their children are full if they feed and watch the tube at the same time.
To find all this out, researchers from the Starting Early project, an early childhood obesity prevention intervention for low-income Hispanic families at Bellevue Hospital Center/NYU School of Medicine, New York, tracked a group of women through pregnancy and birth and then followed up with mother-child pairs until age three. Women received individual nutritional counseling during pregnancy and after the baby was born, participated in parenting and support groups led by a nutritionist, and were given educational handouts and a video.
During their third trimester of pregnancy, 189 women were asked how often they watched TV during mealtimes. When their infants were 3 months old, mothers were asked how often their baby watched TV while being fed.
Results showed that 71 percent of pregnant women reported at least some mealtime TV watching, and 33 percent of the mothers reported that their 3-month-olds were exposed to the TV during feeding.
Women who watched TV during meals while pregnant were five times more likely to expose their infants to TV during feeding than women who did not watch TV while eating during pregnancy. Mothers who were younger than age 25 and those who did not exclusively breastfeed also were more likely to expose their infant to TV while feeding them.
As countless other studies have shown, children who watch too much TV are more likely to be obese, but little research showed how these television habits began.
“Few studies have identified how mealtime TV viewing habits begin in infancy, and what characteristics [of mothers] during pregnancy and early infancy are associated with them,” said Mary Jo Messito, MD, FAAP, project director of the Starting Early study. “Identifying specific maternal behaviors and characteristics associated with child TV viewing during meals will help early childhood obesity prevention efforts seeking to promote responsive feeding and limit TV exposure during infancy.”
Did I continue watching Real Housewives after my baby was born? Let’s put it this way, if it weren’t for Vicki and Tamra’s drama, I don’t know if I would have had the ability to stay awake during all those nights of 2 am feedings. Did my baby become obese as a result? No.
Sill, is it a good idea to cut down on children’s exposure to the tube whenever we can? I imagine that if another baby comes along in our family, I might be more likely to snack on an apple and read a good book instead.
During commercial breaks.
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