New York: Distracted dining may be as dangerous to your health as distracted driving is to your safety on the highway, reveals a new study.
"Being distracted during meals puts kids at added risk for obesity and increased consumption of unhealthy foods," said Barbara H. Fiese, director of Family Resiliency Centre (FRC) at the University of Illinois, US.
"We found that noisy and distracting environments affected parents' actions, and we know that parents set the tone for the quality of family mealtimes," Fiese added.
To test the effects of mealtime distraction, researchers videotaped 60 families during the meal-time.
Half the families were subjected to the sounds of a loud vacuum cleaner in an adjacent room for 15 minutes while they were eating. The other half experienced no distraction.
The effects of the distraction were more marked for parents than for children.
"The noise did have a big effect on communication. Adults got up and down from the table a lot more and made fewer positive comments.
"They paid less attention to their children's concerns in conversation, and we know that kind of conversation is associated with a healthier weight in children," Fiese noted.
Parents ate more cookies and chose more diet beverages over sugary drinks than the quiet group, but they also ate more carrots.
"If you're getting up and down because you're distracted during a meal, you're probably not able to pay attention to the kids' emotions or to model good responses to your hunger cues -- noticing when you're full and not continuing to eat," Fiese pointed out.
The study shows that it's not enough to encourage families to eat together regularly without identifying other factors that promote health.
"Distractions and disruptions may be part of a family environment that is habitually chaotic and unstructured."
"We know that children raised in chaotic family environments are at increased risk for becoming overweight or obese," she concluded.
The article appeared in the journal Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice.