Calm and Positive Family Meals can Manage Children’s Weight
New research found that having calm, positive and friendly family meals around the table could manage children's weight. The study is an add-on to a study published last week, which reported that family meals could keep obesity at bay.
In this study, the same research team headed by Jerica Berge, a psychologist at the University of Minnesota wanted to further examine the link between family meals and reduced risk of childhood obesity. They recruited 120 families with children between the ages of six and 12, who taped their meals using iPads. The researchers examined the recordings for factors that could be tied to the lower risk of obesity.
The researchers looked at factors such as the length of the meal, the type of food served and the interaction between family members. They found that normal-weight children were more likely to interact with their family members positively. These children heard more encouraging statements in comparison to children who were overweight or obese.
"In the households where kids were overweight, there was less of a positive atmosphere at the table. It was a little more chaotic overall," Berge said according to Philly. "You don't want parents to use family meals as a chance to lecture about getting homework done, or other family problems. Children did better if meal time was more of a check-in time, connecting around the table with parents and with siblings."
The researchers also found that overweight kids spent a little bit less time at the table and were more likely to eat their meals in other rooms. For this group of children, 30 percent of the meals were eaten in the family room. In the group of normal weight children, only 17 percent of the meals were consumed in the family room.
Berge stated that meals do not necessarily have to be long to have a positive effect on children's weight. The amount of time healthy-weight and overweight children spent eating was 18.2 and 13.5 minutes, respectively. Instead of focusing on time, parents should try to have as many meals together as possible. During mealtimes, parents should also engage in positive communication with their children.
"It gives the kid a sense of security in the world, and the sense that the kid can regulate their lives, which I believe extends to their ability to regulate eating," Berge said.
The researchers also found that having meals with both parents present had a greater effect on the children's eating habits. Berge reasoned that with two caregivers, mealtime could become less stressful. The team did not find a relationship between screen time and children's weight.
The study was published on Oct. 13 in the journal, Pediatrics.