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Reducing screen time for kids: mixed results

A program instigated to reduce screen time for young children unexpectedly found a way to cut back on meals kids eat in front of the television, according to research published in the journal Pediatrics.

“There is strong experimental data that shows that reducing the number of meals in front of the TV may be the key to understanding screen time and obesity,” says Catherine Birken, a pediatrician and associate scientist at the Hospital for Sick Children Research Institute in Toronto, who designed the study.

Researchers tracked 160 3-year-old children in the TARGet Kids! primary care research network, a combination of seven large pediatric and family medicine practices in Toronto. Parents counseled with research assistants. In general, their children were eating 1.5 meals per day in front of the television. They were told to reduce this by two meals per week by pronouncing meal time a TV-free zone and removing televisions from their kids’ bedrooms. Parents were also told to read their children a Berenstein Bears book titled “Too Much TV.”

The intervention did not reduce screen time, but it did help lessen meals in front of the TV. Birken considers the study a significant achievement that suggests that kids who habitually eat in front of the television aren’t as sensitive to food cues that signal fullness, Time reported.

“The new study is great because it means that people are looking at this and pediatricians are taking it seriously,” Dayna M. Maniccia, an assistant professor at the University of Albany who has researched screen time interventions, told Reuters Health.

Rachel Lowry is a reporter intern for the Deseret News. She has lived in London and is an English graduate from Brigham Young University. Contact her at or visit

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