A new European study has indicated that children who regularly eat breakfast and dinner with their parents are at less risk of being overweight.
The researchers indicated that when parents eat with their children they are more likely to ensure that the meals were healthy and nutritious. The joining of the family at mealtimes all carried several other health benefits.
The study looked at almost 8000 children in eight different European countries. It was found that the ones who ate breakfast with their parents five to seven times each week were 40% less like to be overweight, compared to those who ate with their parents two to three times per week.
The researchers found that the effect was slightly lower, but similar, for dinner. Children who ate with their families were 30% less like to be overweight, compared to those who ate dinner with their families on fewer occasions.
The same effect was not available in children who regularly had lunch with their parents. In fact, they were more likely to be overweight, according to the researchers at the University of Adger in Norway.
The UK was not included in this study, but experts say that the results of the study carried certain lessons for families in Britain. UK workers normally work longer hours than Europeans, which means parents generally have less time to spend with their children.
A senior clinical physiology lecturer at the University of Essex, Dr Gavin Sandercock, said that UK families would benefit even if they ate together occasionally. He said that it appears to have a great impact and while doing it every day is the ideal situation, even having breakfast or dinner as a family would have some benefit.
The health benefits linked to eating breakfast have been known for a long time now. Studies have shown that those who eat breakfast are much less likely to eat unhealthy snacks during the day.
Dr Sandercock has done his own research where he discovered that about one third of children in the UK go to school without having had breakfast. He said sitting down to a family breakfast is an effective method of ensuring that children ate something first thing in the morning.
He said that evidence of the benefits of enjoying a family dinner is new.
He said that eating dinner together does not make you thin, however if the family is organised, they will generally do organised, physical activity. It is also likely that parental rules regarding television time, snacking and what children eat will be implemented.
Dr Frøydis Vik at the University of Adger’s Department of Public Health, stated that the findings were suggestive that families who ate together had a healthier lifestyle, but she admitted that the negative association to a family lunch were not expected.
She stated that this may be due to children returning home from school for lunch, but not being offered a nutritious meal as parents have not had the time to do so.
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