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TV Viewing While Pregnant May Foster Unhealthy Eating Habits for Child

May 06, 2014 05:01 PM EDT

Pregnant women know to watch what they eat, but a new study suggests that for the health of their babies, women also need to watch what they watch.

Watching TV during mealtime while pregnant is linked to an increased likelihood that a mother will also watch TV while she is nursing her baby, according to new research presented Tuesday at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

While also being associated with a poor quality diet, watching TV during meals is discouraged because it can lead to absentminded eating, overeating, and in the case of nursing, overfeeding by not paying close enough attention to whether children are full.

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

The results come from data analyzed from the Starting Early project, an early childhood obesity prevention program that followed women through pregnancy and with their infants until they were three years old.

Researchers with the Starting Early project asked women during their third trimester of pregnancy how often they watched TV during mealtimes.

According to the survey, 71 percent of pregnant women reported at least some mealtime TV watching and 33 percent of mothers reported their infants were exposed to the TV during feeding times.

"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," Messito found. "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."

Messito noted that there has been little research done on how mealtime TV viewing habits begin in infancy and the maternal characteristics associated with the habit.

"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," she said.

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