A Family Meal a Day May Keep Obesity Away

Adolescent obesity rates in the United States are rising quickly, and so is the likelihood that obesity will carry forward into adulthood. Researchers from the University of Minnesota and Columbia University report that family meals could reduce obesity.

On average, family meals tend to include more fruits, vegetables, calcium, and whole grains than quick food eaten on the go.

Jerica M. Berge and colleagues collected data from 2,287 people over 10 years in a study dubbed Project EAT (Eating and Activity among Teens) to examine weight-related variables. These variables included dietary intake, physical activity, and weight control behaviors among adolescents. “It is important to identify modifiable factors in the home environment, such as family meals, that can protect against overweight/obesity through the transition to adulthood,” Dr. Berge says.

In the study, 51 percent of the teens were overweight and 22 percent were obese. Among adolescents who reported that they never ate family meals together, 60% were overweight and 29% were obese 10 years later. Overall, teens in the study who sat down to eat family meals had a significantly lower obesity rate than those who did not. Of course, there might be other variables at play. This does not mean that eating a fast food burger with the family is any healthier than eating a fast food burger alone in the car.

Here is what the researchers have to say about their results: Family meals may be protective against obesity or overweight because coming together for meals may provide opportunities for emotional connections among family members, the food is more likely to be healthful, and adolescents may be exposed to parental modeling of healthful eating behaviors. According to Dr. Berge, “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.” Using this information, public health and health care professionals who work with adolescents can give parents another tool in the fight against obesity.

This new study is scheduled for publication in the Journal of Pediatrics.