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16 April 2015

Electronic Media are Taking Over Family Mealtime

Keywords: food, media, parents, teens, ERC, North America, family communication, mobile, mobile phone,

Media has become an important part of teenagers' lives. Therefore, a study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics investigated how often teens use electronic media during family meals. The study shows that teens use media a lot during mealtime, especially among girls, older teens, African American teens and teens with low-educated parents.

Take aways

  • Teens use media often during family meals, especially girls, older teens, African American teens, and teens with low-educated parents.
  • When using electronic media is allowed during family meals:
    • less healthy foods are served;
    • family members talk less often to each other;
    • parents find family mealtime less important.
  • Health care providers who work with youth and families to support healthy behaviors should make parents aware of the consequence of too much media use during family meals.

Study information

  • The question?

    How often do teens use electronic media (i.e., watch TV, listen to music with headphones, and talk on the phone) during family meals? And is this related to demographic and family characteristics, rules about media use, and types of foods served at family meals?

  • Who?

    1,858 parents (mean age: 42 years; 92% women) of at least one teen (mean age: 15 years; 54% girls; 30% were African American, 29% Caucasian, 19% Asian, 17% Hispanic, and the rest had other ethnical backgrounds; 38% had a low-income

  • Where?

    United States

  • How?

    This study was based on the “Project Eating and Activity in Teens (EAT)”, a study in which weight-related health information was gathered among a large ethnically and socioeconomically diverse teen population. In 1998-1999 parents answered questions about electronic media use at family mealtimes (i.e., watching TV, listening to music with headphones, and talking on the phone), rules regarding media use during family meals, the importance of mealtime (e.g., scheduling family meals), types of foods served at family dinner, and family (e.g., communication within the family and relationship between family members) and demographic characteristics (e.g., age, education level, and family income). In 2004 and 2009-2010 the same parents answered the above mentioned questions again. This study only used the data from parents collected in 2009-2010.

Facts and findings

  • A quarter (26%) of teens watched TV or movies frequently during family meals.
  • Two-thirds (67%) of the parents reported that their teen watched TV or movies during mealtime at least sometimes.
  • More than one in four parents reported that their teen texted (28%) or talked on the phone (26%) during family mealtime.
  • Girls and older teens used electronic media more often during family mealtime than boys and younger teens.
  • Also, teens from parents with low education levels or with a African American or Asian background used electronic media during meals more often.
  • However, when these parents had rules about media use at family meals their children did not use more media during meal time.
  • Families who frequently uses media during mealtime reported to talk to each other less often, and found family mealtime less important than other families.
  • Families where teens frequently used media, served less healthy foods (e.g., fruit, vegetables, and 100% juice) and more unhealthy foods (e.g., sugary drinks).