Media use as a reason for meal skipping and fast eating in secondary school children


Jan Van den Bulck, The Leuven School for Mass Communication Research, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Van Evenstraat 2 A, 3000 Leuven, Belgium.
Tel.: +32 16 32 32 94


Objective  This study examined self-reported meal skipping and eating faster than usual with the goal of watching television or playing computer games.

Method  Respondents reported their media use and indicated how often they skipped a meal to watch a favourite television programme or to play a computer game, and how often they ate faster than usual in order to watch television or play a computer game.

Subjects  Respondents were 2546 adolescents of 13 (first year of secondary school) and 16 years (fourth year of secondary school) of age.

Results  About one respondent in 10 skipped at least one meal every week for either television viewing or computer game playing. Weekly meal skipping for television viewing occurs more regularly in boys and first-year students, but particularly in teenagers who view 5 h or more daily (15% of the sample). The category of teenagers who play computer games four times a week or more (25.3% of the sample) is at increased risk of meal skipping; those who play more than four times a week are 10 times more likely weekly to skip a meal. A quarter of the adolescents eat faster at least once a week to be able to watch television or play a computer game. Regardless of gender and school year, teenagers’ risk of eating faster progressively increases with their use of the media. Those who watch 4 h or more daily are about seven times more likely to skip a meal for television and those who play computer games at least four times a week are nine times more likely weekly to skip a meal.

Conclusions  Unhealthy eating habits can be a side effect of heavy or excessive media use. Teenagers’ use of television or game computers during nonworking or out-of-school hours partly displaces the amount of time that needs to be spent at meals. Practitioners and educators may try to encourage or restore a pattern of healthful meal consumption habits by reducing the amount of media use, and by supporting parental rule-making regarding children's eating habits and media use.