By Joy Stephenson-Laws, J.D., Founder
Family Mealtime May Be Just What We Need to Combat Childhood Obesity
Thanksgiving is just around the corner. And for many, the big sitdown family meal is not exactly what they are looking forward to due to issues such as odd family dynamics and tensions between certain family members.
We often see these scenarios comically depicted in television shows and movies. if you are like me, you might laugh and say, “Every family deals with this.”
But more importantly, how important are these family meals?
I ask this question, because after researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and the University of Mannheim evaluated studies examining the quality of family meals, they argued that family meals play an important role in obesity prevention, according to one report discussing the study.
The study particularly focused on childhood obesity.
The incidence of childhood obesity in the United States has more than tripled since the 1970s. Currently, one in five school-aged children (ages 6-19) are obese. In addition to this, approximately one-third of American youth are overweight. And if our children are overweight or obese, the more likely they are to remain so as adults, which may increase their risk for a variety of diseases, including heart disease, cancer, depression and diabetes.
So we clearly have to be proactive for the sake of our children’s health.
“A greater frequency of family meals is known to be associated with better nutritional health in children,” according to the study report.
Furthermore, the researchers had already shown that children from families who eat together more often have a lower body mass index (BMI) and eat more healthily overall.
But there’s actually a lot more to it than just sitting down together and eating a meal. Turns out it goes beyond just what you put on the plate. The researchers identified six components of healthy meals that you may want to try to abide by during your family meals. Here they are:
- Positive atmosphere
The study showed this is just as important as serving healthy food. So no bickering and arguing. And perhaps save discussing sensitive subject matter with your kids outside of mealtimes.
- Turn off the TV
“Multitasking—like eating while watching television or working—and distracted or hurried eating can prompt you to eat more. Slowing down and savoring your food can help you control your intake,” reports Harvard Health.
And for children, it’s important that the children feel that their parents are getting their full attention.
"Family meals do not automatically lead to better eating habits. Social, psychological, and behavioral aspects also play an important role," said one of the lead study authors.
- Have your children help prepare meals
I am a big advocate of this, which I have previously blogged about. May I also suggest taking your kids to the farmers’ market on a regular basis?
- As parents, set a good example by regularly eating healthily.
It really shouldn’t be, “Do as I say.” It should be, “Do as I do.” Your kids really do look up to you and are influenced by your lifestyle habits. So eat healthily and talk to them about how great it is to eat healthily.
- The length of the meal.
The study did not say much about an actual length of time that would be most appropriate for a good quality family meal, however, really making use of that time by not rushing and watching TV or multitasking (no answering emails on your smartphone, for example) is really key.
- Healthy food.
Of course, this goes without saying. Family meals should consist of plenty of whole, nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.
“The age of the children—whether toddlers or adolescents—and the family's social and economic background were found to have no effect,” according to the study report.
The study also showed that it did not make any difference whether the children were in single family hourseholds. So basically, it’s all about healthy food, a good atmosphere and engaging.
Have a child that is a picky eater?
Read here for some tips, and know that herbs and spices can be the secret in getting your kids to eat more vegetables.
We get it, life and stress happens.
I am not preaching perfection. I’m going for consistency. Sometimes family mealtime just doesn’t happen, or maybe you order some take out. We are human! But if you and your family make family mealtime a collaborative effort, I think that you will find that you are able to do these family meals more regularly - and really enjoy it!
Finally, in order to tackle the childhood obesity epidemic, it is imperative to make sure that our kids are nutritionally balanced. Have your child take routine comprehensive nutrient tests. If the test reveals your child has too much or too little of a certain nutrient, a competent healthcare professional can help with making the necessary dietary changes or recommend quality supplements if necessary.
Enjoy your healthy life!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.