Positive Family Meal Reduces Childhood Obesity

We've all heard about the benefits of a home-cooked meal (and likely bemoaned the amount of work and time that can take to produce), but a new study published this week in Pediatrics shows that when it comes to childhood obesity, what happens at the table may actually be more important than what's on your child's plate.

Researchers at  the University of Minnesota gave 120 families (about half with obese or overweight children and the other half with non-overweight children) iPads to record their meals for eight days, and they found that those families with non-overweight kids were more likely to have positive mealtime interactions.

These included what the study referred to as, "warmth, group enjoyment, and parental positive reinforcement," while overweight children were more likely to experience a more negative mealtime experience such as "hostility, poor quality interactions, little communication and more controlling behavior from their parents," TIME reports.

"I was surprised by how consistent the patterns were," Jerica Berge, study co-author, told TIME. "Almost every single one of the emotional factors we coded were in the right direction, and there were really clear patterns in how much positive or negative interactions were associated with overweight and non overweight."

The researchers also coded for a number of variables like where the meal took place (kitchen or dining room vs. family or bedroom), whether or not members of the family had some kind of screen, and also how long the meal lasted, among others. Through this they also found that for families with both obese and non-overweight children, mealtime is hardly a drawn out affair. Non-overweight children's families typically sat down for an average of 18.2 minutes, while obese children's families spent an average of 13.5 minutes.

It is important to note, however, that this study did not track exactly what families were eating at their meals—that will be their next study's concentration, TIME reports. While we wait for those results, try out some of our own tried-and-true healthy dinner options for your family.

Photo of family eating dinner courtesy of Shutterstock.