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NYT News Service
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StudyEating meals with the family keep kids slimmer and healthier

Eat healthyChildren identify parents as their role models
Eat healthyChildren identify parents as their role models

Researchers have found that youngsters who joined family members regularly for meals were more likely to eat healthy foods than kids who rarely ate with their families. They were also less likely to suffer from eating disorders.

Parents can “really relate to and understand” the findings, published in the May 2 issue ofPediatrics, said study lead author Amber Hammons, a post-doctoral research associate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“We wanted to look at the family's contribution to positive outcomes as it relates to nutrition,” added 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."

Through an Internet search in 2009, researchers at the university's Family Resiliency Center obtained relevant studies involving almost 183,000 children and teens ranging from roughly 3 to 17 years. They looked at the youths' eating habits, weight, and whether they did anything harmful to control it.

Those who ate three or more meals a week with their families were 12 per cent less likely to be overweight than those who ate few or no meals with their families, and 20 per cent less likely to eat sweets, fried foods, soda, and other unhealthy foods. Eating five or more meals together reduced the likelihood of poor nutrition by 25 per cent. Kids who ate with their families also were 35 per cent less likely to engage in “disordered eating” behaviours. While the study suggests that eating together as a family confers a “protective” benefit on children, the reasons for that were unclear. Some possibilities included the value of adult role models, and adult intervention before poor behaviours became bad habits, the study said.

Other research has found that meals prepared at home are more nutritious, with more fresh fruit and vegetables, and less fat, sugar and soda.

“We know that meals prepared at home are more likely to be less calorie-dense,” said Hammons. But other factors such as communication during meal time might also drive the positive influence of family meals on health, she added.

Children may imitate their parents, according to another research. A survey by the American Dietetic Association Foundation found that children identified their parents as their number one role models and claimed that if their parents ate healthier foods, they would too.

NYT News Service

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