Can eating at the table lower your BMI?
With more than 2 in 3 adults considered overweight or obese and childhood obesity doubling in children and tripling in adolescents in the past 30 years, American families need all the help they can to maintain healthy weights.
And some of that help might come in the form of good old-fashioned conversation around the dinner table.
Researchers at the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab found that when families turn off the TV and gather around the table for meals, the dinner ritual can have a positive impact on healthy weight.
Study leaders looked at the dinner habits of nearly 200 parents and 150 children. The parents answered questions about how many times the family gathered together for meals, whether or not they engaged in conversation or if they watched TV while eating. After answering the questions, they also recorded their height and weight.
Comparing the responses with the parents’ height and weight showed a link to their body mass index (BMI) scores.
Parents who admitted to eating with the family while watching TV had higher BMIs as compared to those who ate with the television off.
Additionally, boys who stayed at the table talking with the family and didn’t get up until everyone finished eating tended to also have lower BMI levels.
Study leaders say the findings highlight the benefits of having dinner rituals that strengthen family bonds.
“These results underline the importance of the social aspect of sharing a meal as a family on BMI, since watching television, for example, correlated with higher BMI in the parents. These interactions may replace overeating with stronger, more positive feelings,” researchers said in a news release.
The connection between BMI and dinner rituals isn’t entirely clear, researchers said. But know there is a connection gives families one more weapon in the battle of the bulge.
“Where one eats and how long one eats seems to be a driver of the weight one gains. Such behavior may be related to less distracted eating or more supervision. If you want to strengthen your family ties and, at the same time keep a slimmer figure, consider engaging in a more interactive dinner experience,” they said.
Dr. Jennifer DeBruler, an internal medicine physician with Advocate Medical Group says the whole family needs to work together to maintain a healthy weight. “I encourage my patients to make living healthy a household affair,” she said. “The entire family needs to be engaged in the dietary changes that are essential to treating a child who is overweight or obese.”
She also says when it comes to a kids diet, parents need to keep in mind the “too much and too little” rule.
“Parents should make sure their kids should avoid eating too much sugar, fast food and trans-fats,” an instead opt for more whole grains, fruits and veggies and a little more exercise,” she said.
“Parents are the primary influencers in a child’s life. It’s really up to them to set the example.”
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