Pregnant women's cravings are unavoidable whether they’re at 8 a.m. or 1 a.m. While food cravings during pregnancy may be uncontrollable, expectant moms can control where they regularly eat their meals. Pregnant women who watch TV while eating are more likely to continue that habit during their baby’s feedings, which is tied to a childhood obesity risk for newborns later in life, according to a recent study to be presented Tuesday at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in Vancouver, Canada.

"Reinforcing healthy media habits during pregnancy may help reduce infants' mealtime media exposure and impact long-term media habits in children," said Mary Jo Messito, lead author of the study, in the press release. Previous research suggests that kids who spend a lot of time in front of the TV, especially during mealtime, face health problems, including the risk of becoming overweight or obese. Now, researchers are concerned about the effect TV exposure while eating has on infants, since they could be susceptible to follow this habit, especially if it’s brought on before birth by pregnant mothers.

To investigate, Messito and her colleagues analyzed data from the Starting Early project — an early childhood obesity prevention intervention for low-income Hispanic families at Bellevue Hospital Center/NYU School of Medicine in New York. Women were recruited during pregnancy and mother-infant pairs were followed until the child was 3 years old. The participants received nutritional counseling during pregnancy, before and after the baby was born, along with parenting and support groups led by a nutritionist, and educational handouts and a video.

During their third trimester of pregnancy, about 200 women were asked how often they watched TV during mealtimes (never, sometimes, often, always; dichotomized never vs. all others). When their infants were 3 months old, mothers were asked how often their baby watched TV while being fed, using the same response options.

The findings revealed 71 percent of the participants had at least some mealtime TV-watching, and 33 percent of mothers reported their 3-month-olds were exposed to the TV during feeding. Women who watched TV while eating during pregnancy were five times more likely to expose their infants to TV during feeding, compared to their counterparts who did not watch TV and eat simultaneously while pregnant. Those that were younger than age 25 and who did not exclusively breastfeed were also more likely to expose their infant to TV while feeding them. Messito believes this could be attributed to the difficulty in watching TV and breastfeeding, rather than watching TV and bottle-feeding.

"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,” said Messito, according to Medical Xpress. The study did not provide data on dads’ TV-viewing and baby-feeding habits. However, Messito and her team hopes to conduct an investigation on dads’ influence in the future.

Messito’s findings don't come as a surprise, since children’s TV time has been closely linked to parents’ viewing habits. A 2014 study found the amount of time children spend in front of TV, phone, and computer screens is closely associated with their parents’ own habits, with higher TV-viewing during the weekend than during the week. Children were 3.4 times more likely to spend more than two hours per day watching TV if their parents watched two or more hours of TV, compared to children whose parents watch less than two hours of TV.

These studies highlight parental influence on media habits in children and how these activities are associated with a wide range of health problems, including childhood obesity. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends TV and other media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2; children age 2 and older should be limited to one or two hours of TV and other media a day.


Diaz K. Relationship Between Prenatal TV Watching During Meals and Infant TV Exposure During Feeding. Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting 2014.

Jago R, Lawlor D, Sebire S. ross-sectional associations between the screen-time of parents and young children: differences by parent and child gender and day of the week. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2014.