FRIDAY, May 6, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Fathers have a major influence on how often their children eat at fast-food and other types of restaurants, new research shows.
The study included 312 families in Houston who were interviewed about parents' work schedules, parenting style, beliefs about family meals and the amount of time the children spend in the car with parents. The children in the families were aged 9 to 11 and 13 to 15.
Factors associated with eating out more included: both parents having standard work schedules; kids spending more time in the family car; and fathers' use of restaurants, according to the researchers at Texas A&M University.
Meals served at restaurants tend to be higher in fat, calories and salt than meals prepared at home, researchers said in a journal news release.
The study authors made special note of the strong association between fathers' and children's use of and time spent in both fast-food and full-service restaurants.
The study is published in the May/June issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.
"Since dietary behaviors, like relying on food away from home and eating fast food, have been shown to track from childhood through adolescence into young adulthood, fathers should be encouraged to model healthful food choices when they obtain food and to eat with children at home. After all, fathers who believe that dinner is an important family ritual reduce children's use of fast food; this perception should be encouraged among fathers," study author Alex McIntosh said in a journal news release.
The findings highlight the importance of pinpointing factors that increase American families' use of restaurants, according to the researchers.
The Nemours Foundation offers parents advice about children and healthy eating.