May 2nd, 2011
12:05 AM ET

Family meals benefit health of children

A study in the journal Pediatrics finds that children and adolescents who share meals with their families at least three times per week are less likely to be overweight, eat unhealthy foods or be at risk for eating disorders.

"It tells parents what they can do to help in those nutritional issues with their children," said lead study author Amber Hammons, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.

"We understand that parents are really busy, and that's definitely one of the biggest problems that's cited by parents- that it's just so difficult to manage time to prepare it and then to get all the family members to be present," she said. "What this study is suggesting is that sitting down for three meals out of the week tends to show this significant benefit." The researchers examined 17 previous studies, which involved 182,836 children aged 2 to 17.  Their findings reinforced the recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics, as part of its campaign to prevent childhood obesity. 

The researchers found that three or more family meals per week were associated with a 12% reduction in the odds for being overweight, a 20% drop in the odds of eating unhealthy foods regularly and a 35% reduction in disordered eating- including purging, the use of diet pills, skipping meals or the use of smoking cigarettes as a way to control weight.

Unhealthy foods included soda, fast food, fried food and sweets or candy.

In addition, the kids were 24% more likely to eat healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, breakfast and also more likely to take a multivitamin.

"One study asked children how they would like their parents to be involved with food, and they said mainly they would like their parents to serve healthier types of foods at home and sit down and have their mealtimes together," Hammons said.

"I think that that really shows that there's an adolescent interest in eating healthy foods with the family and knowing that when they sit down to eat with their families, they're more likely to be eating healthy."

She noted that adolescents who sit and eat with their families are less likely to be eating fast food with friends or junk food by themselves.

Hammons suggested future studies include observing families at mealtimes by going into homes.

soundoff (38 Responses)
  1. loricaster02

    Companies do give out samples. They are looking to put their products in potential consumers' hands. They wouldn't do it if it didn't work one of the place that always worked is "123 Get Samples" search online

    May 2, 2011 at 00:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. tinajvega

    I dont feel like i should be forced to have health insurance, I think everyone would like to have health insurance if they could afford it. If you need affordable health insurance search online "Penny Health Insurance" or you dont want to be with out insurance any time.

    May 2, 2011 at 00:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • sam155

      This only works if you are young and healthy. Any history of medical problems at all and you're not going to get affordable insurance as an individual. I have made career choices my entire adult life solely on the basis of being able to obtain health insurance for my children, and I strongly support the Affordable Care Act.

      May 2, 2011 at 09:58 | Report abuse |
    • Katie

      If you don't want health insurance, don't expect anyone – especially not the government [medicare] – to pay for your medical care. I have no problem with people opting out of insurance, but I do have a problem with them showing up at a clinic or an ER expecting someone else to foot the bill or eat the cost.

      May 2, 2011 at 13:06 | Report abuse |
  3. TreeTop

    Growing up my family always ate meals together, and my mom always served healthy foods and we were never allowed fast food (except maybe once or twice a year when I went with friends). However, it didn't stop me and my siblings from always struggling with our weight. My mom is very slim, but the my dad's whole side of the family has weight issues. I'm not overweight anymore, but I just seem to struggle twice as hard as everyone else to lose wight and keep it off, even when I was a teenager and very active. I really do think genetics plays a large part in this too.

    May 2, 2011 at 09:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Jorge

    This is true unless the kids have dinner with dysfunctional parents and siblings who are always waiting to bring issues to the table and sometimes carry on like the Three Stooges trying to build a treehouse. In my family the dinnertime troublemaker was dear old dad, I especially dreaded eating in his company after he'd had a couple of shots on weekends, he'd get into it with my mother over some inane extended family issue that had no truck in our household, and try to pull me into it, damned if you did, damned if you didn't. That's why I suffer from stress-induced GERD today and absolutely forbid arguments at the dinner table in my house. We joke and prank each other, but in good spirit. My daughters love to have dinner with us, the married ones and the one we have left at home.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:34 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Katie

      See, you're not advocating NOT having dinner together, you're just setting guidelines. That is appropriate. And healthy.

      May 2, 2011 at 13:08 | Report abuse |
  5. Fuyuko

    I think it is good to eat together as a family, assuming your family dynamic is good. I personally don't think anyone should be compelled to eat together though if they don't want to. Compelling someone causes resentment.

    May 2, 2011 at 11:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Katie

      Over-empowering the children to make decisions like not being part of their family gives them the wrong tools to go through life.

      May 2, 2011 at 13:04 | Report abuse |
  6. Alicia

    I'm sure this study focuses on dinner time with family and with healthy meals. If everyone isa t the dinner table with a bucket of fried chicken and all of the fixings or take-out from the Mexican restaurant down the street, eating more han 1 serving, well...the entire family would have a weight issue...I suppose.

    Mom's need to cook. Studies should focus on that – The mother who cooks and the mother who doesn't. Who has the family with the most weight issues? Probably the mother who doesn't spend much time preparing meals.

    May 2, 2011 at 12:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Rincewind

      No, Alicia, *Moms* don't need to cook. *Parents* need to cook and teach their children how to cook so that everyone learns healthy behavior and everyone shares the load.

      May 2, 2011 at 12:52 | Report abuse |
    • Katie

      Moms and Dads and kids all need to cook. When things start to get busy – as they do, when kids are older and get into more activities – kids can also operate a stove. Even if all they make is something out of a box or can (my kids were good at tacos – all they needed to do was brown the meat and at the stuff from the box, they also knew how to boil noodles and heat up spaghetti sauce), kids can also be in charge of a meal. Weight issues don't come from a mother who doesn't cook, they come from eating the wrong things and from eating too much. I knew a mother who cooked a lot – the entire family was overweight because her cooking was both tasty and bountiful.

      May 2, 2011 at 13:02 | Report abuse |
  7. Katie

    Isn't it sad that a family eating a meal together can be such news. We always ate at least two meals together when our kids were growing up – a full breakfast (yes, a hot breakfast) – and dinner. Sometimes it meant someone had to be up at five-thirty so no one's schedule was delayed, and sometimes it meant waiting until seven for someone to get home, but we always did it. Of course, it also helps if someone knows how cook a meal, and it also helps if all members of the family think it's important to eat together and it helps when everyone works relatively the same hours. Even now, with two grown kids still occasionally living at home, we all eat dinner together, and we still use the dining room where there is no tv, and no one brings a cellphone to the table, not even our kids' friends.

    May 2, 2011 at 12:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. WellnessDrive

    1 soda a day can add 15 lbs a year.

    Health conscience meals with your family is a necessity – at least 1 per day. Eating Healthy is a must at almost every meal.

    May 2, 2011 at 13:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Mother of 4

    I work fulltime and my family sits down to dinner everynight together. We go to the market on Saturday morning and prepare meals for the week on Sunday. My kids are 9,11,17, and 20. They all like to cook and help out.

    May 2, 2011 at 14:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Raja

      During our time in the UK, our family fell in love with cnokiog shows! (In our opinion, they are one of the few worthwhile things on television.) We have found that adults and children alike have been inspired to try new foods after watching a master chef do something amazing with them. Jamie Oliver is our favorite, and while we often need to have a little chat about some of the words he uses (ahem!), our kids have caught the excitement of healthy eating and cnokiog and even gardening from his work. And from catching a show by a great chef to finding an interesting recipe to cnokiog it and enjoying it, we can do it all in cooperation as a family! It's quite fun.

      March 5, 2012 at 22:57 | Report abuse |
  10. strivingforHealth

    My family ate dinner together every night. Because we were to eat together every night – NO MATTER WHAT – we would eat some nights at 7 pm and other nights as late as 10 pm! Most meals were home cooked with protein and veggies. We still ate occasional fast food, lots of boxed packaged food, soda with every meal if not sugar laden juice and we were all overweight. Eating together every night is only one small piece of the pie. The other pieces are exercising together (my family never did) and eating healthy whole foods. Also, helpful are eschewing soda, juice, boxed, processed foods and excess junk food.

    May 2, 2011 at 14:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Brett

    Also, doesn't hurt if your kids know where the food comes from. It doesn't just appear magically on the counter. They need to know that work goes into the preparation (and if you are really ambitious, the cultivation). Some kids will take to the responsibility of cooking meals more than others, but all kids should understand that it is a responsibility.

    May 2, 2011 at 16:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Aijaz

      Wow these are great. I love the one with Liam in the foreground and J&M sttiing in the back. And that singleshot of Liam is priceless. I hate the we live so far from you. The meltdowns that would happen in the car from our place to yours would ruin all photo opps.

      March 5, 2012 at 23:57 | Report abuse |
  12. Ramona Brown

    Sitting down to a family meal is the worse idea ever. Meals should be eaten quietly alone. Read my book The Quiet Diet.

    May 2, 2011 at 16:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mom to 3

      Really you think that? My kids are all slim, and so am I. Maybe quiet is good for peace, but family time is more important. Part of meal time is teaching proper food choices and portion size. I make a healthy rounded meal, and kids don't cheat on momma's dinner with junk or they get in trouble.

      May 3, 2011 at 13:00 | Report abuse |
    • Charles

      You're not mean at all. One day they'll have adult concerns over ntriution and in those years they'll be thanking you while other kids are looking at their waistlines and health issues and blaming their parents.We avoid white meat burgers in any form – its the scraps of meat from near the bone, falsely 'fortified' with skin and fat to bulk it into something moist enough to be moulded into shape, and full of salt. Fizzy drinks are for celebrations and lucky Sundays.We avoid all breakfast cereals with colours, chocolate bits, sugar. We go through loads of milk but its all semi skimmed.Have you tried your boy on omega 3 and 6?

      March 3, 2012 at 22:15 | Report abuse |
  13. Mom to 3

    We have dinner at the table everyday. Sometimes on weekends or holidays three times a day. My kids used to want to eat on the couch, but I got new furniture 8 years ago and said NO MORE EATING IN THE LIVING ROOM. Guess what, my couch still looks pretty good today. We don't eat out much because one of my kids is gluten-free and we live in a small town. My kids friends have all learned when dinner is and often show up. I will feed anybody.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Jing Hu

    Well, in my oppinion it depends on the portions size of "family meals together" to keep a healthy weight.

    If a family eats a huge portion indivisually well you still can gain alot of weight. Just sayin'

    May 4, 2011 at 09:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • June

      We've had to adjust our nitikhng on the family meal as our family & ideas about food have evolved over the last 10 years. We developed a ritual to eat together as a couple, after the kids had gone to bed when they were small. Now they are reading or practicing their instruments when we eat. With 3 kids under 4yrs, we felt nurturing our couple time was important to being good parents. Still, we are with the kids when they eat & we talk (or listen). We also don't all eat the same thing. Some of my kids are carnivores & some are carbivores, lol. Each child makes out a menu, though, & has to include at least one veggie even if that is a single piece of spinach. (baby steps) Now the oldest kids are learning to cook & help prepare everybody's food. I used to feel guilty that I wasn't living up to the ideal, but realized we have created our own ideal. If the goal is to eat a whole foods diet at home, nurture family bonds & communication, we are pleased. 🙂

      March 3, 2012 at 19:03 | Report abuse |
  15. nina786

    my family is always meal together everyday....it keeps us closer ...:)


    May 6, 2011 at 07:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Child growth

    I will not thanks you I want be genuine user of your blog happy family eat meal together. I will be waiting for some creativity.

    May 12, 2011 at 03:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Ahyar

    I'm not sure if I would go this far, and called it abuse , but there is mtesohing troubling moral teaching children about religious mythology, as if they really were.

    March 4, 2012 at 08:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Sangs

    The information given by Delilah are eceellxnt, and the video from you tube was terribly sad.Why anyone deliberately hurts an innocent child or any living thing is beyond me, people like this need to be locked up, an anyone who protects them or stays silent is equally guilty.Good luck with the presentation.

    March 5, 2012 at 21:31 | Report abuse | Reply
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