Dinner rituals impact child and adult weight, study finds

Gathering at the dinner table isn't just an important way for families to clock in quality time together.

A new study from the Cornell Food & Brand Lab found that the dining environment itself can influence weight in both children and adults.

Mealtime habits

Dr. Brian Wansink and Dr. Ellen van Kleef conducted the study, which examined how family rituals were linked to varying BMI rates in 190 parents and 148 children.

Participants completed a survey that assessed the family's mealtime habits, such as how many days they ate together or how often they discussed what they did during the day.

What the researchers found was that these "dinner rituals" were linked to BMI: The higher the BMI of parents, the more often they ate with the TV on. Lower BMIs were linked to eating at the table in the kitchen or dining room. Girls who were involved in helping prepare dinner were more likely to have higher BMIs, but this didn't hold true for boys. And in families where everyone stayed at the table until each individual was finished eating, boys and parents tended to have lower BMIs.

Implications

The researchers point out that these dinnertime habits don't necessarily affect BMI directly, but it could indicate that more importance should be placed on the daily rituals that surround cooking and meals. The fact that boys who had a more "social" dinner experience tended to have lower BMIs, for example, suggests that family togetherness at meal times might play a larger role in healthy BMIs than previously thought.

"Although the reasons for the links are not clear, family meals and their rituals may be an underappreciated battleground to prevent obesity," a press release on the study stated. "Where one eats and how long one eats seems to be a driver of the weight one gains. Such behavior may be related to less distracted eating or more supervision."

Source: Cornell Food & Brand Lab

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