Family dinners a recipe for slimmer, healthier kids

The Globe and Mail

Kids who ate regularly with the rest of their family were 24 per cent more likely to eat healthy foods, according to a recent study. (iStockphoto/iStockphoto)

If you won't be sitting down tonight to a cozy family dinner à la the Cleavers, than here's one more reason to feel guilty: Your kids, according to a new study, are more likely to be fat. (Or, as one working-parent-friendly headline put it: "Families that eat dinner together, stay slim together.)

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The study, published in the May 2 issue of Pediatrics and based on an analysis of 17 earlier studies, found that kids who ate regularly with the rest of their family were 24 per cent more likely to eat healthy foods - and less likely to have eating disorders - than children who rarely sat down with mom and dad at the dinner table.

Combining the studies allowed researchers at the University of Illinois to analyze about 183,000 children between the ages of 3 and 17. Compared with kids who rarely or never dined with their family, the ones who did so three or more times a week were 12 per cent less likely to be overweight, and 20 per cent less likely to eat junk foods such as candy and pop. Five meals a week was even better, reducing the risk of poor nutrition by one-quarter.

The researchers aren't clear on why this was the case, though they speculated that sit-down meals are healthier, and that parents were able to stop bad eating habits before they started. Lead author Amber Hammons told HealthDay News that, "It's important for parents to know what they can do, especially with obesity and eating habits: They want to know what role they can play."

The bad news: Family meals have been in rapid decline in Canada - even as parents become more worried about what their kids are eating. On an typical day in 1992, 63.7 per cent of teens were sitting down to dinner with their family. In 2005, that number had almost halved to 34.8 per cent.

But here's the real question: Does inhaling sandwiches together while you race your son to soccer practice count as a family dinner?

How often does your family eat dinner together?

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