At my parents that is still the case, it's rare that we eat without the distraction of the TV. I also used to pig out in front of the TV and just eat as long as I was watching.
I was curious if there was any research that linked couch potato to large people. It's a known phenomenon or "couch potato" wouldn't be so synonymous. I was such a couch potato growing up, that one year for Christmas I actually received a couch potato as a gift (I got this link from Ebay and don't know how long it will be good).
I found several articles talking about obesity from eating in front of the TV. The BBC has a story about a study done in the 70's in New Zealand. They do have clear evidence that the two are linked but the study is old.
Another study done in 1998 discusses how childhood obesity has caused a rise in childhood diabetes. It states
Television, video games and computers also add to the problems of sedentary living. Studies by Dietz showed that childhood obesity is related to the amount of time spent watching television.Another study in 2002 showed that TV does link to overweight children, but more closely links to children with TVs in their bedroom.
"But television viewing is not a single behavior," Dietz said. "It represents a marker for inactivity and altered patterns of food consumption. The more television a child watches, the more likely they are to consume foods advertised on television and the more likely it is that those foods are high in calories."
Finally, a study in 2003 links TV watching and Soda consumption to overweight kids.
There are many other studies out there. I have only seen one which said that TV is not linked to overweight kids. And I saw one which stated that kids who get overweight (for whatever reason) have less friends, and thus just utilize their now alone time in front of the TV instead of doing something else.
Personally I think that the problem is two-fold.
First, I think an overabundance of TV in children leads to a more sedentary life-style, and even though they may not be overweight as a child, the lifestyle learned leads to being overweight later in life.
Second, I think that as kids do become overweight, they don't want to do the physical activities anymore and they choose to watch TV and play video games. These alone don't make them fat, but they do continue to add to the weight problem that already exists.
Finally, some kids are going to be genetically predisposed to be thin and can get away with doing everything wrong, while others are going to be bigger no matter what they try. I advocate a healthy lifestyle. Healthy food and very little TV. Make the TV that you watch at least be educational, don't waste your time just to watch something, learn something. And make sure that as a family you get active. Take your kids out to the park, but don't just sit and watch them, run around with them, interact. Make sure your children know that you play too.