Regular Family Meals Improve Children’s Nutritional Intake

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Children and teens who share at least three family meals per week are more likely to be at a healthy weight and less likely to have nutritional health issues than those who do not eat with their families more frequently. Said researcher Amber J. Hammons PhD of the University of Illinois, “Shared family meals seem to operate as a protective factor for overweight, unhealthy eating, and disordered eating.”

Kids Who Eat Meals with Their Family Less Likely to Be Overweight

Dr. Hammons and colleagues at the University’s Family Resiliency Center analyzed the results of 17 recent studies on eating patterns and child nutrition involving more than 182,000 children and adolescents between the ages of 3 and 17. Among the five studies that evaluated the association between family meals and nutrition, children who shared mealtimes at least three times per week were 24% more likely to eat healthy foods and have healthy eating habits than those who shared family meals less often.

Eating five or more meals together reduced the likelihood of poor nutrition by about 25%. Disordered eating practices such as bingeing and purging (bulimia) and fasting or eating very little (anorexia or extreme dieting) was reduced by 35%. They were also less likely to smoke as an effort to keep weight down.

Read: Eat Dinner with Children to Reduce Risk of Substance Abuse

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"For children or adolescents with disordered eating, mealtimes may provide a setting in which parents can recognize early signs and take steps to prevent detrimental patterns from turning into full-blown eating disorders," write the researchers. "In addition, family meals are predictive of family-connectedness, which may encourage adolescents to talk about such issues within their families."

Children who ate meals with their families were less likely to eat sweets, fried foods, and sodas, making them 12 percent less likely to be overweight, defined as having a body mass index at or above the 85th percentile.

Read: Mothers Full Time Employment Could Contribute to Childhood Obesity

The researchers note that eating together may confer a protective benefit by providing adult role models, active communication, and intervention before poor behaviors become habits. They also note that food prepared at home was more likely to be nutritious, with more servings of fruits and vegetables and less fat, sugar and calories.

"We wanted to look at the family's contribution to positive outcomes as it relates to nutrition," said Hammons. "It's important for parents to know what they can do, especially with obesity and eating habits; they want to know what role they can play."

Journal Reference:
"Is Frequency of Shared Family Meals Related to the Nutritional Health of Children and Adolescents?", Amber J. Hammons, PhD, Barbara H. Fiese, PhD
PEDIATRICS doi:10.1542/peds.2010-1440

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