Growing dependence on digital devices and social media could be having a negative impact on Kiwi waistlines, according to a new Ministry of Health report.
The Ministry’s report found that watching television while eating increased food intake in children, adolescents and adults, even in the absence of food advertisements, and that this effect may also be present with other screens including computers and phones.
Psychologist Sara Chatwin says we have become dependent on the consumption of media and social media and devices that allow us access to information quickly and easily.
“The consumption of media through digital devices has become so ubiquitous in our daily lives it now pervades every part of our day - including our meals.
“As a society and as parents, we need to learn to say no to screens at key times and set firm rules around when and how we eat, so we are not mindlessly consuming food while distracted by a constant barrage of digital content,” she says.
The 2017 Ministry of Health report found that eating a healthy breakfast every day in childhood can lead to improvements in academic performance, may improve diet overall and may protect against weight gain.
However, recent research from Sanitarium showed that less than half (49 per cent) of children usually have a nutritious breakfast seven days a week.
Only a third of children aged 13 to 15 years ate a nutritious breakfast every day.
The research carried out in conjunction with the company’s Better Brekkie programme found that while the majority (72 per cent) of children have breakfast at home seven days a week, a sixth (16 per cent) of those aged 5-7 years eat away from home at least once a week.
The likelihood of eating breakfast at home decreased with age, with more than half (52 per cent) of those aged 13-15 years eating breakfast away from home at least once a week.
The survey also found that half of 13 to 15-year-olds and seven per cent of those aged 5-7 years skip breakfast once a week.
Sanitarium nutritionist Stephanie Polson says more awareness is needed on the impact of distracted eating on New Zealand children - growing up with access to digital content at their fingertips.
“Watching TV or your phone while eating can prevent us from focusing on our eating behavior - where we would normally be more attuned to internal processing food cues as well as being able to exert a habitual dietary restraint,” she says.
Both Polson and Chatwin say it’s heartening to see that adolescents appear to be influenced by parental role modelling of eating breakfast as evident in the report, and agree parents need to make sure they are sending the right messages when it comes to healthy food habits to this group.
Polson says breakfast is the meal that literally breaks the fast from the time spent sleeping.
It may have been over 10 hours since your last meal, so it is important to refuel the body, ready for another day.
“Eating a nutritious breakfast each day can come with a range of positive outcomes, including improving overall diet quality and it may even protect against weight gain”, she says.
As well as a positive physiological impact, eating breakfast impacts on our mental health says Chatwin.
“If you have a good nutritious breakfast it’s a positive start to the day - you feel great and you mentally acknowledge that you’ve made this good choice. Many clients have commented to me that when they adjusted their breakfast routine to have a more nutritious breakfast that their day ‘flowed’’, that they felt more alert and had a better day all round,” says Chatwin.
Polson says parents can influence their children’s eating habits; by encouraging them to help prepare and cook food, turn off their screens while eating and sit together with the family for meals.