Frequent family meals promote good nutritional health in children

January 19, 2018, Max Planck Society
Breakfast at home: for the positive effects of family meals, it doesn't matter at what time of the day parents and children sit down together for a meal. Credit: fotolia / Lumina Images

Successful obesity prevention starts at home – at the family dinner table. The results of a meta-analysis conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and the University of Mannheim have been published in Obesity Reviews.

Eating habits are formed early in life. Family meals have huge potential as a , where parents can demonstrate healthy eating habits and children can learn about nutrition and food preparation in general. The results of a meta-analysis conducted by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin and the University of Mannheim show that frequent family meals are associated with lower body mass index (BMI) and in children. These relationships held irrespective of the country of the study and the children's age. It did not matter whether families ate breakfast, lunch, or dinner together, or whether meals were taken with just one parent or the whole family.

Parents as nutritional gatekeepers

"Childhood is a unique window of opportunity for countering detrimental eating and lifestyle habits. Parents act as 'nutritional gatekeepers' in that they have a substantial influence on when, what, and how much children eat. So family meals offer a rich learning environment for setting up in children," says lead author Mattea Dallacker of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development. But family meals are not a silver bullet. The exact mechanisms underlying the relationship between frequent family meals and better eating habits remain unclear. "The current research indicates that it's not just the quality of food that's important, but that psychological and behavioral factors also play a role. For example, mealtime routines such as positive parental role modeling or a pleasant atmosphere could improve children's eating habits," says co-author Jutta Mata from the University of Mannheim.

Challenges for working mothers and fathers

In their meta-analysis, the researchers evaluated 57 studies with more than 200,000 participants worldwide. The analysis synthesized data from studies examining the relationship between family meals and children's nutritional health, measured in terms of (BMI), the number of portions of fruit and vegetables eaten per day (as an indicator of healthy diet), and consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, fast food, and salty snacks (as indicators of an unhealthy diet). The influence of factors such as age, socio-economic status, type of family meal, and the number of members eating together was also examined.

"Given the increasing trend for both parents to work, putting on the table is a daily challenge for many families. In this context, it's important to note that initial findings indicate that other communal meals, such as school lunches, can also have positive effects on children's . For instance, one study showed that teachers can also serve as positive role models when eating together with their students," says Ralph Hertwig, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and co-author of the study.

Explore further: Eating together as a family helps children feel better, physically and mentally

More information: M. Dallacker et al. The frequency of family meals and nutritional health in children: a meta-analysis, Obesity Reviews (2018). DOI: 10.1111/obr.12659

Related Stories

Eating together as a family helps children feel better, physically and mentally

December 14, 2017
Children who routinely eat their meals together with their family are more likely to experience long-term physical and mental health benefits, a new Canadian study shows.

Happier mealtimes, healthier eating for kids

October 13, 2017
(HealthDay)—Parents who struggle to get their children to follow a healthy diet may want to make dinnertime a pleasant experience, new research suggests.

Six easy ways to encourage children to eat less sugar

January 11, 2018
A new campaign from Public Health England is urging parents to limit snacks for children to two a day, and 100 calories a piece. The aim is to reduce kids' sugar consumption – according to PHE data, children eat on average ...

Moms of obese children use different words to restrict eating

January 9, 2018
It's a familiar scene at a birthday party: As a child goes back for a second cupcake or piece of cake, a parent says he has had enough sweets.

Cooking family meals, skipping TV during those meals linked to lower odds of obesity

March 23, 2017
Adults who don't flip on the TV during dinner and those who eat home-cooked meals are less likely to be obese, a new study has found.

Regular family meals together boost kids' fruit and vegetable intake

December 19, 2012
Regular family meals round a table boosts kids' fruit and vegetable intake, and make it easier for them to reach the recommended five portions a day, indicates research published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and ...

Recommended for you

BMI is a good measure of health after all, new study finds

December 11, 2018
A new study from the University of Bristol supports body mass index (BMI) as a useful tool for assessing obesity and health.

A correlation between obesity and income has only developed in the past 30 years

December 11, 2018
It is well known that poorer Americans are more likely to be obese or suffer from diabetes; there is a strong negative correlation between household income and both obesity and diabetes. This negative correlation, however, ...

Simple tips to curb overindulgence can help stop pounds piling on at Christmas

December 10, 2018
A study by the University of Birmingham and Loughborough University has shown that regular weighing at home and simple tips to curb excess eating and drinking can prevent people from piling on the pounds at Christmas.

Obesity intervention needed before pregnancy

December 6, 2018
New research from the University of Adelaide's Robinson Research Institute supports the need for dietary and lifestyle interventions before overweight and obese women become pregnant.

Gene that lets you eat as much as you want holds promise against obesity

December 4, 2018
It sounds too good to be true, but a novel approach that might allow you to eat as much food as you want without gaining weight could be a reality in the near future.

High childhood BMI linked to obesity at age 24 in women

December 3, 2018
Girls who gain weight more rapidly between the ages of 5 and 15 are more likely to be obese at age 24, according to researchers.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.