Calm, Positive Family Meals May Help Ward Off Child Obesity

Having both parents present, eating in kitchen also linked to healthier weights

MONDAY, Oct. 13, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Positive, calm, and friendly family meals might help a child avoid becoming overweight or obese, a new study suggests. The findings were published online Oct. 13 in Pediatrics.

The researchers asked 120 families to record their meals using iPads, and then studied the video recordings. They noted the length and type of meals served, how family members interacted during meals, and how these factors related to a child's weight.

Normal-weight children were more likely to have family meals during which parents offered encouraging statements and everyone seemed to enjoy each other's company. Negativity at the table seemed to be associated with obesity. Children who were overweight had shorter meal times and ate more often in rooms other than the kitchen. However, the meals of overweight children were not that much shorter than the meals of children at a healthy weight -- an average 13.5 minutes compared with 18.2 minutes. The researchers also reported that healthy-weight children were more likely to have both parents present at family meals. Three out of five families had some type of screen on during the meal, including a television, cellphone, computer, or hand-held video game. Both overweight and healthy-weight children were equally likely to have a screen intruding on the family meal.

The study findings seem to indicate that how parents behave -- serving healthy portions, acting as role models -- seems to matter as much as other household distractions, Melinda Sothern, Ph.D., chair of health promotion at the Louisiana State University School of Public Health, who was not involved in the research, told HealthDay. "One has to ponder, if a mother and father have the intention of having a family meal, you can almost say the next idea of that is they are going to be better parents in general," Sothern said. "It's much easier to drive through a fast-food window, or place the children in front of the TV with a frozen meal."

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