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The Importance of Eating Together as a Family

Eating together as a family has many benefits not only for you, but also for your children. Despite today’s fast-paced lifestyle that seems to include more drive-throughs and diners than dinners at home, people still believe that this traditional practice is important.

One recent study showed just why people believe eating as a family can be so valuable. Researchers surveyed 107 parents of 8- to 10-year-old children and found that parents believe eating together offers family members better nutrition, makes them feel closer-knit family, and provides a great opportunity for conversation.

A surprising benefit of eating as a family

A recent large-scale study published in the journal Pediatrics noted a somewhat unexpected but extremely positive benefit of sitting down as a family to have dinner together. This lifestyle habit may actually help to fend off childhood obesity.

In 2005, researchers analyzed data on nearly 8,550 American children who were 4 years old. They looked at the obesity levels among the children and how that rate was affected by three everyday routines that are traditionally thought to be healthy for children: eating dinner as a family more than five times a week, sleeping for at least 10.5 hours each night, and watching less than two hours of television on each weekday.

Overall findings showed that 18 percent of all children in the study were obese. But in children who weren’t exposed to any of the three healthy routines, the obesity rate shot up to 24.5 percent. On the positive side, the researchers noticed that children’s chances of obesity declined if they were exposed to any of those healthy traditional routines, and the decline was greater with the addition of each additional good-for-you behavior. Children whose lifestyle included all three routines had a significantly lower rate of obesity—just 14.3 percent.

Another way to look at the numbers is that children who got adequate sleep, watched less TV, and ate as a family six times a week or more were nearly 40 percent less likely to be obese than kids who didn’t experience any of these routines.

Researchers aren’t exactly sure about the specific connection between eating as a family and childhood obesity rates, but one thing is certain: Eating together clearly has several positive benefits for the health of everyone in the family—a great reason to consider skipping the fast food lane and preparing a healthy meal for the whole family at home.

Parents from the survey who recognized the benefits of eating together also mentioned that they do face time and organization hurdles to putting healthy meals on the table. One suggestion that may help is to divide the responsibilities for planning and preparing meals among mom, dad, and the kids to get everyone more involved and interested in family dinners.