To test the effects of mealtime distraction, researchers at the University of Illinois in US videotaped 60 families during mealtime.
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.
Participants' BMI was measured, and food consumption, action, behavior, mealtime communication, and critical communication were observed and recorded during the meal.
The effects of the distraction were more marked for parents than for children. Parents ate more cookies and chose more diet beverages over sugary drinks than the quiet group, but they also ate more carrots. Parents and children ate the expected amount of pizza.
"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," said Barbara H Fiese, director of the university's Family Resiliency Centre.
"Being distracted during meals puts kids at added risk for obesity and increased consumption of unhealthy foods. In this study, we found that noisy and distracting environments affected parents' actions, and we know that parents set the tone for the quality of family mealtimes," she added.

The findings were published in the journal Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice.


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