Want slimmer kids? Eat with them.
Regular family meals reduce the risk of obesity, improve children’s nutrition, and encourage healthy eating habits, says a new study in the journal Pediatrics.
Children and adolescents who share at least three family meals per week are more likely to be a healthy weight and less likely to have disordered eating (an early sign of potential eating disorders) than those who shared mealtimes less frequently. Disordered eating includes behaviors such as bingeing, taking diet pills, self-induced vomiting, using laxatives or diuretics, fasting, eating very little, skipping meals, and smoking to lose weight.
Children who eat three family meals a week are also about 20 percent less likely to eat junk food, 35 percent less likely to have eating problems like skipping meals or bingeing, and 24 percent more likely to eat vegetables and other healthy food.
Researchers analyzed the results of 17 recent studies on eating patterns and child nutrition involving more than 182,000 children and adolescents.
“For children or adolescents with disordered eating, mealtimes may provide a setting in which parents can recognize early signs and take steps to prevent detrimental patterns from turning into full-blown eating disorders,” wrote researcher Amber J. Hammons, PhD, of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and colleagues in Pediatrics. “In addition, family meals are predictive of family-connectedness, which may encourage adolescents to talk about such issues within their families.”