OUR dining table was last used on Christmas Day.

In fact, it’s only ever used at Christmas and very occasionally if relatives or friends come to visit. Other than that it acts as a dumping ground for newspapers, magazines, piles of ironing and anything else that is looking for a permanent home.

It’s a far cry from my upbringing, when our dining table was used every day, for its intended purpose: lunch (which we called dinner) and dinner (which we called tea). We always ate as a family, sitting around the table chewing the cud.

We had a table in the kitchen too, where we ate breakfast. It was the same at friends’ homes - family meals around the table were daily rituals.

It’s all far removed from how people eat nowadays. Nearly half of British people regularly tuck into meals while watching TV or glued to their phone or computer. I am ashamed to admit that my husband and I eat our meals on the sofa, in front of the TV. And now scientists say it could be contributing more to weight gain than simply being part of a sedentary couch-potato lifestyle.Writing in the research journal Appetite, they say that eating meals in front of a screen makes you more liable to pile on the pounds than sitting around a table, even if you are otherwise healthy. Their research suggests that distracting the brain during mealtimes - by watching TV or scrolling through social media - affects its ability to regulate calorie intake.The results follow a string of similar findings, including previous studies that linked eating in front of the TV to higher body-mass index, possibly because it leads to more ‘mindless’ munching.I am ashamed to admit that my husband and I eat our meals on the sofa, in front of the TV. We are definitely guilty of ‘mindless’ munching, especially after we have chomped our way through the main course and pudding and fancy an additional snack or two to make the TV drama or quiz show more enjoyable.There’s also the adverts. When you think you’ve finished your meal and one of those shiny, glossy M&S food commercial pops up, you think - ‘Ahhh, maybe I’ll just nip to the fridge and get an extra piece of cheesecake.’ No wonder we aren’t the svelte beings we long ago used to be.It’s easy to work out why families choose to wolfing down their chilli-con-carne in front of Emmerdale and Coronation Street, piling the pounds in the process.We’re all simply too tired. Life is a battle, far more so than for my parents’ generation. Back then, many mothers, like mine, did not work and spent their days managing the house, preparing meals and setting tables. Most families ate at around 5pm - we kids raced out afterwards to play with our friends. Now, in many homes, both parents work, many work at different times of day, and it would be unusual for every family member to be home at ‘tea time’ to sit around the table. It’s easier to plonk yourself down on the sofa.

And isn’t it more relaxing to not have to make conversation, as you do at the table? When my husband and I sit down to relax, usually between 7 and 10pm, watching TV is by far the most enjoyable option. We would rather eat while doing so do that than sit down at the table asking each other how our uneventful days went.So, despite this unwelcome news for our waistlines, for the foreseeable future we’ll continue to have dinner with Cathy Newman of Channel 4 News, Antiques Roadshow’s Fiona Bruce or University Challenge’s Amol Rajan. We’ll just have to hold back on the snacks.