TV Time Related to Poor Eating in Toddlers

Toddlers who watched more TV were significantly more likely than those who watched less TV to consume sugar-sweetened drinks and junk foods, based on data from 529 children.

Previous research had shown an association between screen time and poor diet, but most have involved school-aged children; the relationship in toddlers has not been well studied, Melissa R. Lutz, MD, of Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, said in a presentation at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting.

The American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends no digital media for children younger than 18-24 months, and an hour or less daily for children aged 2-5 years.

To examine the association between TV time and dietary practices in 2-year-olds, the researchers conducted a secondary analysis of data from 529 children who presented for their 2-year-old well-child visit at a single center. The study population was 52% Latino/Hispanic and 30% non-Latino/Hispanic Black, and 69% had an annual household income less than $20,000. The median time spent watching TV daily was 42 minutes. The data were taken from participants in the Greenlight Intervention Study, a randomized trial of an obesity prevention program at four academic pediatric primary care clinics in the United States.

Daily screen time and dietary practices were based on parent reports, and included daily volume of juice, daily counts of fruits and vegetables, daily count of junk foods such as chips, ice cream, French fries, and fast food, and consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. The cross-sectional analysis controlled for race/ethnicity, Women, Infants, and Children Program benefits, number of children at home, caregiver education level, and family income.

In adjusted analysis, more than an hour of TV time was significantly associated with junk food intake, with odds ratios of 1.12 for 90 minutes and 1.25 for 120 minutes (P < .05 for both). Similar associations were seen for TV times of 90 minutes and 120 minutes and intake of fast food and sugar-sweetened beverages.

Additionally, the researchers found that toddlers who watched TV during mealtimes were more than twice as likely to consume sugar-sweetened beverages (OR, 2.74), junk food (OR, 2.72), fast food (OR, 2.09), and only about half as likely to consume fruits and vegetables (OR, 0.62).

The study findings were limited by several factors including the cross-sectional design, the reliance on caregiver self-reports, potential for residual confounding, and the low average screen time, Lutz noted.

However, the results suggest that “increased screen TV time and mealtime TV were both associated with poor dietary practices in 2-year-old children,” she said.

Future research should include analysis of passive screen time, as well as the relationship between screen time and diet with other digital devices beyond TV, she added.

COVID Drove Screen Time Higher

The current study is especially important at this time because of the increased screen exposure for many young children in the wake of the ongoing pandemic, Karalyn Kinsella, MD, a pediatrician in private practice in Cheshire, Conn., said in an interview. “Screen time use is up even more than before [the pandemic], and this study is a reminder to ask parents of young children about screen time and dietary history.”

Kinsella said she was not surprised by the study findings. In her practice, “I see families with more screen time use in general who also are more likely to have juice and junk food available. If kids had no access to screens, I believe they would still have access to unhealthy foods. I believe more research is needed into why screen time is so high in some families.”

The study received no outside funding. The researchers had no financial conflicts to disclose. Kinsella had no financial conflicts to disclose and serves on the editorial advisory board of Pediatric News.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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