FRIDAY, Feb. 4, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- The quality of family mealtimes can affect the health of children with asthma, new research suggests.
In the study, U.S. researchers observed the mealtime interactions of members of 200 families with children aged 5 to 12 with persistent asthma.
While children with asthma generally take medicine before exercise or in a particular season, children with persistent asthma need medication more often, need to avoid different allergens, and usually maintain regular schedules to control the disease.
The new study found that mealtimes lasted an average of only 18 minutes but that the quality of interaction between family members was directly related to the children's health, including how their lungs worked, their asthma symptoms, and their quality of life.
Essentially, children with persistent asthma had better health if they were in families that spent mealtimes discussing the day's events, showed genuine interest about their children's activities, and turned off electronic devices while eating.
Mealtimes with more disruptions -- such as watching TV or talking on cell phones -- and less shared communication were more common among single-parent families, minority families and families in which the primary caregiver had lower levels of education. In turn, children with persistent asthma in these families had poorer health, the researchers said.
The study is published in the January/February issue of the journal Child Development.
"Mealtimes represent a regular event for the vast majority of families with young, school-age and adolescent children," study leader Barbara H. Fiese, a professor of human and community development and director of the Family Resiliency Center at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, said in a news release from the Society for Research in Child Development.
"[Mealtimes] provide an optimal setting for public health initiatives and prevention efforts, and can be considered by policymakers and practitioners as a straightforward and accessible way to improve the health and wellbeing of children with asthma," she added.
The American Lung Association has more about childhood asthma.