According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents over the past 30 years. Along with it comes an increase in all the health problems associated with obesity: tendencies towards heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and bone and joint problems.
So, what can be done about it?
It would seem patently obvious that the solution to obesity in children is to have them eat healthy and move around more. That’s a good plan, to be sure. But as parents, we can also help by hosting regular family mealtimes around our own tables. In fact, studies show that children whose families follow this practice eat a more nutritious diet and have lower rates of obesity.
A new study published by the journal Pediatrics found that the family dinners of children who are at a healthy weight tend to share three common characteristics:
- Family meals are more positive and warm.
Parents who provide their children with positive reinforcements about eating (“eat foods to get stronger or run faster”) instead of providing negative pressure, threats or controlling tactics tended to have children who don’t suffer from obesity. Their mealtimes also were characterized by a “warmer, more communicative atmosphere.”
- Family meals lasted longer.
Research found heavier kids only spent 13.5 minutes per meal on average eating with their families as opposed to an 18.2-minute average mealtime for children of healthy weight.
- Family meals included a father figure.
Whether it was a father or a stepfather, non-obese children usually had a patriarch figure at the table.
It’s fascinating that these commonalities are independent of what the families actually ate at mealtime.
Providing simple things like loving, encouraging guidance and quality time together not only helps a child’s emotional well-being, but his physical well-being, too.
Time and time again we see how no government-based solution can accomplish what a committed mom and dad can do for their children.
Resources to get your family dinners on track
Focus on the Family is committed to helping parents along every step of their family’s journey, including the seemingly mundane task of planning and preparing family meals.
Here are two things to help:
- You can use our free “Conversation Starters” smartphone app during family mealtime to foster better talks with your children.
- Focus partners with eMeals to help parents with meal planning that’s varied, healthy, on budget and delicious. Learn more at www.focusonthefamily.com/emeals.
When your son or daughter asks, “What’s for dinner?,” I hope these resources will make it so the answer includes memories, laughter and love.