Family Meals Fight Fat
In my book “True Nutrition-European Secrets for American Women,” I emphasize the importance of sit-down meals with your family whenever possible. It’s a time-honored tradition in Europe, where I grew up. But it’s a fast-fading vestige of great American life in this country. I urge readers to return to simpler times; when families gathered around the table for a home-cooked meal. No rushing. No pressure. No fast food eaten on the run. Just family togetherness and good food enjoyed in a relaxed setting.
My instincts and experience tell me that there is great value in this honored tradition of shared family meals. Now scientific research has confirmed at least one aspect of the value of this traditional practice. In a new paper published in the Journal of Pediatrics, investigators report that children who experience the togetherness of family meals are less likely to become obese.
Jerica M. Berge, PhD, and colleagues from the University of Minnesota and Columbia University, gleaned data from a 10-year longitudinal study called Project EAT (Eating and Activity among Teens), to investigate weight-related variables such as dietary intake, physical activity, and weight control behaviors among adolescents. I’m sure you can guess where this is heading…
Children who reported eating at least one to two family meals together each week were significantly less likely to be identified as obese at the 10-year follow-up than children who ate fewer, or no, family meals. Researchers speculate that there may be more at work here than better nutrition. Although family meals are more likely to provide healthful nutrients and foods—such as calcium, whole grains, fruits and vegetables—investigators speculated that sit-down family meals may also help prevent obesity and overweight by providing better opportunities for emotional connectivity among family members.
In any event, the fact remains that kids who enjoy at least one or two family meals each week are less likely to develop obesity. Obesity is an independent risk factor for a number of serious illnesses, so anything that helps kids remain normal weight is good for them. “Informing parents that even having one or two family meals per week may protect their child from overweight or obesity in young adulthood would be important,” said Dr. Berge. I couldn’t agree more. Bon appetit!
Jerica M. Berge, Melanie Wall, Tsun-Fang Hsueh, Jayne A. Fulkerson, Nicole Larson, Dianne Neumark-Sztainer. The Protective Role of Family Meals for Youth Obesity: 10-Year Longitudinal Associations. The Journal of Pediatrics, 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2014.08.030