Beyond plate size and calorie count, the war against obesity may have a new leader – the dinner table. Families that eat together without the television on and stay seated until everyone's finished have children with lower weights and body mass index (BMI), reports a Cornell behavioral economist in the October issue of Obesity.
Strong, positive socialization skills during dinners possibly supplant the need to overeat, the researchers explain. Mothers and fathers who talk meaningfully with children, especially young boys, about their day during dinner also have lower BMIs.
"The ritual of where one eats and how long one eats seems to be the largest driver," said Brian Wansink, professor in Cornell's Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab. He co-authored the study with Ellen Van Kleef, assistant professor at Wageningen University, The Netherlands.
But families that eat while watching television can turn chubby, the researchers noted. "In fact, eating anywhere other than the kitchen or dining room was related to higher BMIs in both parents and in children," said Wansink.
"By focusing on family dining rituals, this research departs from the more food-centric approaches," said Wansink. "Family meals and their rituals might be an underappreciated battleground to fight obesity."
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