Family meals together promote healthy eating for children

Healthy eating of children is promoted by frequent family meals

More and more children suffer from obesity. The main culprit is a lack of exercise and an unhealthy diet with too much sugar. But how do parents manage that their offspring eat healthier? Quite simply: by taking meals more often with the family. This has now been shown in a meta-analysis of almost 60 studies.

More and more children are far too fat

According to international research, the number of obese children has increased dramatically. More and more overweight people also live in Germany. Obesity can lead to a variety of diseases. In order to address the problem, the main risk factors for obesity need to be addressed: lack of exercise and unhealthy nutrition. But how can you positively influence children's eating habits? Quite simply: through frequent family meals.

Successful obesity prevention begins at the family dining table

Meals with the family offer enormous learning potential, because eating habits are shaped and trained early on.

Children can come into contact with healthy food repeatedly and generally learn something about nutrition and the preparation of food.

A meta-analysis by scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin and the University of Mannheim shows that frequent family meals are related to a lower Body Mass Index (BMI) and healthier nutrition in children.

It didn't matter in which country the study was conducted or how old the children were. It made no difference whether breakfast, lunch or dinner was eaten together and whether there was only one parent or the whole family at the table.

Counteract harmful eating habits

"Childhood offers a unique window of time to counteract harmful health and eating habits," said lead author Mattea Dallacker from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in a statement.

"Parents are also referred to as so-called 'gatekeepers'. They have a significant influence on what, how and how much children eat. Family meals offer a diverse learning environment to promote healthy eating in children. ”

However, family meals in certain circumstances do not necessarily lead to a healthier diet.

The causes and mechanisms behind the relationship between frequent family meals and better diets have yet to be understood, according to the study authors.

"Current research suggests that not only the quality of the food, but also psychological and behavioral aspects are important when eating meals together," explains co-author Jutta Mata from the University of Mannheim.

"For example, meal routines such as a good meal atmosphere or a positive parental role model could improve children's diets."

Indicators of healthy and unhealthy eating

As part of their meta-analysis, the scientists evaluated a total of 57 studies with over 200,000 subjects worldwide.

According to the information, the analysis included studies that deal with the relationship between family meals and the nutritional status of children - measured by the Body Mass Index (BMI), the servings of fruits and vegetables per day (as an indicator of healthy eating) and the Consumption of sweetened beverages, fast food or salty snacks (as an indicator of unhealthy nutrition).

The influence of factors such as age, socioeconomic status, type of family meal and number of family members present at a meal was also examined.

"In view of the fact that both parents are increasingly working, regular family meals are becoming a daily challenge for many families," says Ralph Hertwig, director at the Max Planck Institute for Educational Research and co-author of the study.

“In view of a modern society, the first scientific findings are important, which show that family-like meals, for example at school, also have a positive effect on children's nutrition. One study shows that teachers can also represent a positive role model during meals with students, ”explains the expert. (ad)

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