Minnesota Nursing magazine

A healthy habit

New research suggests family meals may curb childhood obesity
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Barb Schlaefer

Most parents know the struggle of preparing dinner and getting the family together around the table.

Busy schedules, evening activities, errands and the lure of technology are all barriers to a family sit-down dinner, an activity that research shows strengthens families.

While creating a family-centric meal might be difficult, parents now have another reason to make it happen while their children are young. New research suggests that having family meals with your children before they enter puberty holds promise for curbing obesity.

Professor Jayne Fulkerson, PhD, found that preparing and eating healthy meals together may prevent excess weight gain in younger children. The research was published recently in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.

“The research results suggest if younger children eat frequent and healthful meals with their families, they may be less likely to gain excess weight as they grow,” Fulkerson said.

Jayne FulkersonProfessor Jayne Fulkerson, PhD, found that preparing and eating healthy meals as a family may prevent excess weight gain in younger children.

The HOME Plus study is the first randomized controlled trial to test a family meals-focused program to prevent excess weight gain. The study involved 160 children, ages 8 to 12, and their parents or guardians. Parent surveys and child body mass index checks were performed at the beginning and end of the program, as well as nine months after the conclusion of the program. Families assigned to the HOME Plus program participated in 10 monthly family group sessions and five goal-setting phone calls. Families assigned to the control group received only a nutrition newsletter highlighting healthy family habits.

The HOME Plus study found children participating in the HOME Plus program who had not started puberty gained less weight compared to children who did not participate in the family meals-focused program.

The significant effect among prepubescent children suggests the intervention may be more effective with younger children. Program participants who had started puberty did not see significant differences in excess weight gain compared to the control group.

“Teaching children how to prepare healthy meals and snacks gives them a life skill that can promote a lifetime habit of healthy eating.”

“Additional research to confirm the effectiveness of the program specifically for prepubescent children is needed,” Fulkerson said.

Fulkerson hopes these results will encourage parents to make family meals a priority and teach their children how to create healthy meals in the process.

“Teaching children how to prepare healthy meals and snacks gives them a life skill that can promote a lifetime habit of healthy eating,” Fulkerson said.

The study was funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Disease of the National Institutes of Health.

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