Families that eat meals together tend to have the healthiest dietary habits and the lowest obesity risks, a new review of studies has found.
Rutgers University researchers who evaluated results from 68 previously published scientific reports on the association between family mealtime and children's health found numerous benefits to kids and parents alike.
The findings, presented at the American Society for Nutrition’s Scientific Sessions in San Diego this week, indicate families that eat frequent meals together at home tend to consume more fruits, vegetables, fiber, calcium-rich foods, and vitamins than individuals dining alone or eating out.
In addition, researchers found the more meals a family eats together the less likely children are to consume dietary components thought to be harmful to health. Children in families that have frequent family meals also tend to have lower body mass indexes (BMI) than those who eat fewer family meals.
Researchers noted past studies have found that time-stressed families are eating more meals outside the home than in past decades. More than 40 percent of the typical American food budget is spent on eating out, which is generally associated with poor food choices and bad health, Rutgers researchers said.
For the new study, investigators examined how frequency and atmosphere of family meals was related to consumption of both healthy foods (fruits and vegetables) and those considered less desirable (soft drinks).
“Often parents will hear tidbits about family meal benefits here and there,” they concluded, “but we hope that something like this (study) may be useful to provide information from a reliable source."
This study was funded by the United States Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture.