Family meals may help kids keep from packing on pounds

fam dinnerNov. 8, 2014—Healthy weight management in children isn’t just about what kids eat. A new study in the Journal of Pediatrics suggests how they eat also may play a role in preventing obesity.

The study suggests that eating together as a family can help keep kids’ weight in check. With parents searching for solutions to fight childhood obesity—a problem affecting nearly 13 million children between the ages of 2 and 19—family meals may be a welcome strategy to prevent adulthood obesity and the many health problems that can come with it.

About the study

Researchers surveyed 2,117 people while they were in middle and high school and again 10 years later to evaluate their eating habits and their body mass indexes (BMI)—a estimate of body fat based on height and weight.

They found even those who reported just 1 or 2 weekly family meals were 45 percent less likely to be overweight after the 10-year period compared to those who reported never eating together.

In the initial survey,15 percent of the participants reported that they never ate meals together with their families. Among these individuals, 60 percent were overweight at the 10-year point and 29 percent were obese.

However, of those who initially reported that they ate 1 or more family meals together, 47 percent to 51 percent were overweight 10 years later and 19 percent to 22 percent were obese. There was a stronger positive effect on weight management among black participants than among white participants.

Other studies have showed that eating meals together as a family may lessen the risk that adolescents will become overweight. This study supports those findings and suggests the positive effect may carry over even into adulthood.

Although the study didn’t evaluate why family meals are beneficial, researchers theorized that it may be because they tend to involve healthier foods, provide opportunities for building emotional connections among family members and give kids a chance to observe healthy eating behaviors in their parents.

To learn more, view the full study at the journal’s website.

The take-home message
You may help your children better manage their weight by making family meals a priority. And they can happen at any meal—not just dinner. If that time of day is too busy for your family, try family breakfasts, or have lunch together on the weekends.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that parents serve reasonably sized portions of nutritious foods, including:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Healthy proteins, such as lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs and beans
  • Low-fat dairy products

It may also be worthwhile to involve children in planning menus and grocery shopping trips. You may even consider planting a garden—it can help kids learn about good nutrition and provide an opportunity for physical activity, another essential element for keeping weight down.


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