Families That Eat Together Experience Improved Health
In North America today, obesity has become the national health crisis. It has risen to near epidemic proportions not just amongst adults but also amongst children. Many households are so busy with work, school and childcare responsibilities that the notion of having a regular family meal together has all but gone by the way side. Because of this, more and more families eat meals out either in fast food establishments or other restaurants and it is estimated that the average family spends more than 40% of its disposable income on restaurant meals of one sort or another. This practice has become so prevalent in North American households that a family meal is most often relegated to a holiday dinner or some other special occasion. As the children move into their teenage years, this becomes even an even more common practice.
Studies indicate that families that take most of their meals out suffer more negative consequences than just those associated with poor nutrition. Eating most meals away from the home leads to markedly poorer overall health and poorer nutrition. It is also leads to higher risk for obesity.
Trying to convince busy working parents of this notion in such a way that will encourage them to take more time planning weekly menus, grocery shopping and preparing family meals has been a difficult process for physicians and dieticians alike.
Recently, research scientists at Rutgers University began looking at this issue with a goal of developing a model that could be implemented to teach parents about the importance of sitting down with their family for a meal. They looked at reports on 68 previously published studies that had looked at the relationship between children’s health and whether or not the family regularly had family meals together. They looked closely at how often those family meals were occurring and what kind of food was being presented at them and consumed by the family members. They were trying to determine if families who sat down for a family meal together on a regular basis had lower obesity rates when compared to those which did not have family meals together regularly.
At first glance at the literature, they determined that children who had regular family meals had higher intake of three important food groups: fruits, vegetables and calcium-rich foods. They also noted that these children consumed more fiber in their diets. Additionally, the more often a family ate their meals together, the less frequently children consumed food items that are considered harmful to a person’s health. They found only a weak link between obesity risk amongst children who ate more family meals but they noted that those children tended to have much lower body mass index levels than those that did not.
From this research, the scientists were able to develop a simple to understand conceptual image which presents their findings in a way that is easy to understand.
The scientists were able to glean a great amount of valuable information which can be used to teach parents how to make better decisions when it comes to the food choices they make for their families. Although many people already know most of this information intuitively, most do not have the time or education needed to interpret scientific reports of this nature. They instead rely on headlines which are broadcast through the media which detail individual studies many of which do not accurately present the information which is contained in the study. The Rutgers University scientists hope that their study of the way in which family meals and children’s health is impacted and their creation of a user-friendly image which summarizes their findings visually will eventually lead to health interventions which benefit many children.