Could Pleasant, Peaceful Family Meals Help Fight Childhood Obesity?
You might not think of it, but having peaceful, pleasant family meals could help maintain children at a healthy weight, according to a new study.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota gave 120 families iPads to record mealtimes for 8 days; half the families had overweight or obese children, and half did not.
Upon viewing hours of family meals, researchers found that families with non-overweight kids tended to have friendlier interactions, where family members seemed to enjoy one another’s company; parents were also more likely to use positive reinforcement during meals.
Meals in families with overweight children were more apt to have a negative atmosphere, including hostile interactions among members, less communication and more controlling behavior from parents. Study co-author Jerica Berge, a psychologist at the U of MN, described the atmosphere at these meals as “more chaotic.”
Researchers also looked at where meals were eaten (kitchen or dining room vs. family room or bedroom), how long the meals lasted, and whether or not any screen was being used, such as a TV or a video game.
The results showed that 3 out of 5 families in both groups had a screen on during mealtime; meals lasted an average of 18 minutes for families of non-overweight children, and 13.5 minutes for families with overweight kids. Also, overweight children ate more meals in rooms other than the kitchen: 30 percent of meals for overweight children took place in the family room, compared to 17 percent for non-overweight kids. Conversely, 80 percent of meals for healthy-weight children occurred in the kitchen, compared to 55 percent for overweight kids.
The study is consistent with previous research that linked frequent family meals to a lower risk of childhood obesity. Berge asserted that parents shouldn’t use family meals to lecture about homework not done or other family problems. Mealtime should be more of an opportunity for parents and siblings to connect with one another.
Berge added that the positive effects of pleasant family meals can be gotten any time, whether it be at breakfast, lunch or dinner. She believes that frequent, positive family meals give children a sense of stability that can foster feelings that they’re in control of their environment — which can translate to having control over what they eat.
Researchers also found that children of healthy weights were more likely to have both parents present during meals — that might help to keep chaos under control or provide additional modeling behavior.
Results of the study were published online in October, 2014 in the journal Pediatrics.
Family Meals Are an Opportunity for Parents to Offer Healthy Food Choices
The study didn’t look at what foods were served in the meals, but it’s important to note that in addition to the opportunity for family members to get closer and create a more positive family atmosphere, family meals also serve as the best opportunity for parents to consistently show their children what healthy eating is about.
Parents don’t have to spend tons of time preparing a meal when that’s not possible, but they can still serve healthy, balanced meals that will promote healthy weights and good health.
Serving salads, steamed or raw vegetables, or adding vegetables into a dish to be cooked doesn’t take a lot of time, yet it adds a practically endless number of nutrients and important dietary fiber to the meal, helping to maintain healthy weights.
Parents being the strongest influence in their children’s lives, they are the perfect people to model healthy eating behaviors. Do you serve sodas with a meal because they’re easy to grab or because they “taste good” — or do you show your children what healthy beverages are, by serving water, fruit juices diluted with water, or milk? Carbonated water can be a delightful and calorie-free substitute for sodas, without all the sugars and chemicals in sodas. Mixing fruit juice with carbonated water can also be another great, tasty and healthy alternative.
It may take just a few moments more to serve healthy choices, but in the end, there is nothing more important than the foods that we eat, to keep us healthy; so, whatever time you invest will be well worth it in the long run. The more you instill in your children the habit of eating healthy, the easier it will be for them to carry that habit wherever they go.
Even in today’s busy times, eating happy, healthy meals as a family is a very wise choice, for a number of important reasons.
By Jamell Andrews