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Published December 03, 2010, 12:00 AM

Prairie Faire: TV-viewing pattern can influence health

“Mom, you look like a lady from the olden times,” my 7-year-old daughter commented. I wasn’t sure if she meant I looked old-fashioned or just plain old. I will stick with the first option.

By: Julie Garden-Robinson, INFORUM

“Mom, you look like a lady from the olden times,” my 7-year-old daughter commented.

I wasn’t sure if she meant I looked old-fashioned or just plain old. I will stick with the first option. If I had been a lady from the distant olden days, however, I would not have been watching TV.

I was sitting in a comfortable chair knitting a scarf, and I had a thick quilt tucked in around me. I could see fluffy flakes of snow sparkling in the darkening sky through the window. All I needed was a crackling fire in the fireplace, a steaming cup of tea and, perhaps, a crunchy snack.

I felt myself settling in for the winter that evening. For many people, winter weather means more time spent indoors and often, more TV viewing.

Researchers in the United States and Europe have noted seasonal and weather variations in TV viewing. In one European study, researchers analyzed meteorological data, including temperature, wind speed, precipitation, atmospheric pressure and other factors, and compared the information with TV viewing statistics.

Higher wind speed, more precipitation and colder temperatures were among the factors linked with more TV viewing. Similar results have been shown in U.S. studies.

We in Midwestern states can relate to blustery weather keeping us indoors.

However, what does watching more TV have to do with health? Potentially, quite a bit.

When we sit in front of a TV for many hours, we are not burning very many calories. Health experts recommend that we get at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week.

Getting enough physical activity can lower your risk for heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis and diabetes. Getting enough physical activity helps us maintain our weight and our mental health.

Obviously, watching TV isn’t a good exercise program unless you are exercising along with a personal trainer on TV. However, you will burn a few more calories watching TV compared with sleeping.

If a 155-pound person spends 30 minutes lounging on a couch watching TV, he or she will burn about 28 calories. If the same person falls asleep on the couch, the calorie tally is 23 calories in 30 minutes.

If the 155-pound person gets off the couch to cook a meal, he or she will burn 93 calories in 30 minutes. For the same person and amount of time, shoveling snow will burn about 223 calories, sledding 260 calories and exercising on an indoor ski machine 350 calories.

Eating in front of the TV can be an issue. We may lose track of how much we eat, especially if we are watching a spellbinding program. Eating snacks directly from the box or package can be especially problematic. When we reach the end of the program, we might discover that the box is empty.

Therefore, if you are hungry for a snack as you sit down to enjoy your favorite TV show, read the serving size information on the Nutrition Facts label. Place a “serving” in a small bowl and stop with that amount.

Set a goal to stay active and healthy this winter season. If you are hungry for something crunchy, have apple slices, carrot sticks or other fruits and vegetables, or some popcorn.

Try this recipe from the Popcorn Board at www.pop

corn.org. This whole-grain snack provides a crunchy, flavorful, lower-fat option to chips.


Chipotle Ranch Popcorn

1 Tbsp. ranch salad dressing mix

¼ tsp. ground chipotle chili pepper or chili powder

¼ tsp. garlic powder

4 quarts popped popcorn (popped in oil)

Stir together ranch salad dressing mix, chipotle pepper and garlic powder in a small bowl. Sprinkle the seasoning mix over popcorn; toss and serve. (If you air-pop the popcorn, lightly spray the popcorn with butter-flavored cooking spray before sprinkling with the seasoning.) Store leftover popcorn in an airtight container.

Makes eight servings (about 2 cups each). Each serving has 110 calories, 6 grams (g) of fat, 14 g of carbohydrate, 2 g of fiber and 25 milligrams of sodium.


Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.

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