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Families that eat together, stay thinner together

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Family eating together

Families that eat meals together, and remain seated until everyone is done eating, are more likely to be thinner and have a lower body mass index (BMI) than families who don’t, according to a new study published this month in Obesity.

The study reveals that obesity in America is more complicated than some may think, as simply telling people not to eat as much and exercise more covers only part of the problem.

It’s also important to make the dining experience one that includes social interaction, meaning turning the television and cell phones off during mealtimes. Cornell professor, Dr. Brian Wansink, said that this research is a refreshing departure from “more food-centric approaches”, which often overlook the importance of family dinners and other rituals that play an important role in the war on obesity.

For example, the study found that sitting down for family meals helps build better communication and social skills that, in turn, can help reduce overeating. Such personal interaction during mealtimes benefitted both parents and children, as the study found that when moms and dads had meaningful conversations with their kids – especially younger sons – they, too, were thinner and had lower BMIs.

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To the contrary, the study found families that eat at the same time they’re watching TV were more likely to be overweight than families who sat down at the dinner table together with the TV turned off.

Indeed, the researchers said that parents and children who ate “anywhere other than the kitchen or dining room” tended to be heavier and have higher BMIs than those families that routinely sat down together at the dinner table to eat their meals.

It makes sense given that eating together encourages more social interaction, including conversation, especially when the TV and other outside distractions are removed.

In contrast, eating by yourself can lead to boredom, which can increase the temptation to keep eating even when you’re already full.

It therefore stands to reason that the healthiest location in your home may well be the dinner table – with family eating together around it.

SOURCE: Obesity, Dinner rituals that correlate with child and adult BMI, by Brian Wansink and Ellen van Kleef, published October 1, 2013 (DOI: 10.1002/oby.20629)