Some studies have shown an association between the frequency of family meals and a decrease in the risk of overweight or obesity.
Sadly, it seems that fewer families eat their meals together each day. A study in 1995 found a 5% decrease in the number of children that ate family meals when compared to a similar study performed in 1991. More recent research has shown similar outcomes. It has also been observed that as children grow older and become more independent, the frequency with which they eat at home decreases.
In a study by Gillman and colleagues from the Harvard Medical School (2000), it was observed that children who had dinner at home ate 0.8 more servings of fruits and vegetables and fewer fried foods and sodas than children who ate at home sporadically or never. After analyzing the nutrient composition of the diets of children eating at home more often, it was found that their diets were higher in fiber, calcium, iron, folic acid, and B complex vitamins. These results have also been confirmed by other researches.
A couple of potential reasons that family meals are associated with a healthier weight include:
- There is an opportunity to teach children to select the best food choices and eat the appropriate portion sizes.
- Homemade meals are usually lower in saturated fat and sodium and higher in vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
It is advisable that parents use time at the dinner table to educate their children about healthy eating habits and other related subjects.
Factors that might counteract the benefits of family meals include watching television during meal times and ordering home-delivered meals. Try to keep the TV off while you eat with your family and focus on sharing the moment with them. If you are going to order food, make sure to choose the healthiest options (grilled, broiled, steamed foods, and ask for any sauces or dressings on the side so that you may use your own low-fat versions).
Overweight and obesity no longer affect just adults. The prevalence of overweight and obesity has increased alarmingly among children and teenagers, increasing their risk of developing chronic diseases later in life, such as heart disease, certain types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
It is important to promote healthy eating habits among your children, starting when they are very young. Providing more family meals will not only keep your children healthy, but will also provide a setting for sharing time and special moments as a family.
Matthew Gillman, et al. (2000). "Family Dinner and Diet Quality Among Older Children and Adolescents." Arch Fam Med. 9:235-240. Retrieved on November, 2007 from http://archfami.ama-assn.org/cgi/reprint/9/3/235.
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