People in families who regularly eat together during mealtimes are healthier and less likely to become overweight, according to a new review of previous research.
Researchers at Rutgers University, New Jersey, analyzed data collected from 68 previously published studies to assess how frequency or atmosphere of family meals affected children’s consumption of both healthy and unhealthy foods and found that kids who more frequently ate with their family not only had a lower body mass index, they also ate more fruits, vegetables, fiber, calcium-rich foods, and vitamins.
Additionally, nutrition scientists found that the more frequently families share meals together the less likely children will eat unhealthy foods like chips and sweets.
Adolescents who frequently ate with their family during mealtimes were also less likely to experience depression symptoms and were more likely to feel that their family was more supportive compared with teens who ate less frequently at the family table.
“It is very interesting that something as simple as frequently eating meals together may contribute to so many different types of benefits to all family members,” lead author Jennifer Martin-Biggers, a doctoral student in the department of nutritional sciences at Rutgers told Time Magazine.
Investigators also found that the quality of family interactions during meals is also important. Families that eat meals together while watching TV or eat out did not have the same healthy dietary intake as families who dined together at home.
“We believe that spending that family time together may provide a platform allowing parents and children to interact and for parents to teach children healthy habits,” Martin-Biggers said, according to Time magazine. “The increased focus on food and eating may be a mechanism behind the improved diets families tend to show when they eat together.”
Researchers at Rutgers said that they are in the process of creating a user friendly at-a-glance graphics based on their findings to help families make better nutritional choices.
"Images like this one will be a helpful method to demonstrate the benefits identified in scientific literature to parents in a concise, non-biased method. Often parents will hear tidbits about family meal benefits here and there, but we hope that something like this may be useful to provide information from a reliable source," researchers said in a statement.
The findings were presented on Monday at the American Society for Nutrition’s Scientific Sessions in San Diego.