Family meals could protect teens from obesity in adulthood

October 15, 2014

By Catherine Griffin

A simple, family meal each day may reduce the risk of obesity in teens. Scientists have found that family meals during adolescence were protective for overweight and obesity in adulthood.

In order to see whether family meals played a role in obesity reduction, the scientists used data from a 10-year longitudinal study. They examined weight-related variables, such as dietary intake, physical activity, and weight control behaviors among adolescents. Then the scientists asked questions to assess family meal frequency and body mass index.

About 51 percent of the subjects were overweight while 22 percent were obese. More surprising though was the rate seen among adolescents who never ate family meals together; 60 percent were overweight and 29 percent were obese at a 10-year follow-up. There was also a stronger positive effect when it came to family meal frequency among black young adults compared with white young adults.

“It is important to identify modifiable factors in the home environment, such as family meals, that can protect against overweight/obesity through the transition to adulthood,” said Jerica Berge, one of the researchers, in a news release.

The findings reveal the importance of family meals in a teen’s life. Yet why do these meals have this effect? It’s possible that family meals may provide opportunities for emotional connections among family members and the food served is more likely to be healthy.

“Informing parents that even having one or two family meals per week may protect their child from overweight or obesity in young adulthood would be important,” said Berge.

The findings reveal another tool in the war against obesity. By simply including a family meal, parents can help lower their child’s odds of becoming overweight.

The findings are published in the Journal of Pediatrics.

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