Television viewing has long been linked with poor eating habits, so researchers at the University of Minnesota embarking on a study of family meals fully expected that having the TV on at dinner would take a toll on children's diets. They were surprised to find that families who watched TV at dinner ate just about as healthfully as families who dined without it.
The biggest factor wasn't whether the TV was on or off but whether the family was eating the meal together. Some 5,000 middle and high school students in Minneapolis and St. Paul were surveyed.
The biggest effect was seen among the kids who didn't eat regular family meals at all. Girls who dined alone ate fewer fruits, vegetables and calcium-rich foods and more soft drinks and snack foods than girls who ate with their parents. Boys who didn't eat with their parents had fewer vegetables and calcium-rich foods than family diners. So, the takeaway here is that being together at dinner is what counts.