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Pregnant Woman’s TV Habits Could Increase Risk of Obesity for the Child

Update Date: May 06, 2014 01:25 PM EDT

Several studies have tied television to an increased risk of obesity since people who watch a lot of TV tend not to be very active. In a new study, researchers examined the effects of a mother's TV habit on an unborn child. They reported that pregnant women who watch TV during mealtimes could be setting up their kid for childhood obesity.

"Reinforcing healthy media habits during pregnancy may help reduce infants' mealtime media exposure and impact long-term media habits in children," said lead author Mary Jo Messito, MD, FAAP according to the press release. "Reduction of mealtime TV viewing during pregnancy could be an important component in early childhood obesity prevention programs."

For this study, Dr. Messito and her team examined data taken from the Starting Early project, which is a childhood obesity prevention program for poor Hispanic families located at Bellevue Hospital Center/ NYU School of Medicine in New York. The women were pregnant at the start of the study and were followed for three years after they gave birth. The researchers interviewed 189 women during their third trimester regarding their TV habits at mealtimes. The women were interviewed about the same habits when their infants were three-months-old.

71 percent of the pregnant women had watched TV occasionally during mealtimes. 33 percent of the women stated that after they gave birth, they had exposed their infant to TV during feeding time. The researchers calculated that pregnant women who watched TV while eating were five times more likely to watch TV while feeding their infant. Mothers younger than 25 who did not breastfeed exclusively were also more likely to watch TV while feeding their infant. Mothers are not recommended to watch TV while feeding their infant because the distraction increases the risk of overfeeding, which can lead to childhood obesity.

"Few studies have identified how mealtime TV viewing habits begin in infancy, and what maternal characteristics during pregnancy and early infancy are associated with them," said Dr. Messito, 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."

The study, "Relationship Between Prenatal TV Watching During Meals and Infant TV Exposure During Feeding," was presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) yearly meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

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