The habit of gathering for nightly family dinners sounds delightful—perfectly behaved children answering nicely as their parents ask them about their day, the passing of gorgeous green vegetables, a complete absence of fast food wrappers—but it's not very common in practice. And this, it turns out, is a problem. Why? Because not eating together, like everything else in this world, is making us fat and miserable.
A team of researchers at Rutgers University reviewed 68 studies that have been done on family meals and eating behaviors. What they found is that a family mealtime had a lot of benefits, particularly for children. When kids ate with their families, they tended to eat healthier foods (fruits, vegetables, etc.) and not so much junk food. They tend to have lower body mass indexes as well, though this research did not find a conclusive link between eating as a family and obesity. They also did better emotionally. Teens who ate with their families were less likely to be depressed, and they felt their families were more supportive.
It's not just enough to spend time together and chow down in each other's presence, though. The researchers found that families who watched TV or ate at fast food restaurants didn't experience the same benefits as those who ate together at home. Researchers Jennifer Martin-Biggers explains,
We believe that spending that family time together may provide a platform allowing parents and children to interact and for parents to teach children healthy habits. The increased focus on food and eating may be a mechanism behind the improved diets families tend to show when they eat together.
Harumph. That's lovely, in theory, but whose family is even home for dinner? Most kids are too busy with soccer practice or sexting to bother showing up at the family table. And who has the time to rush home every night and prepare a beautifully healthy meal for their family? Congratulations, busy parents, you now have another thing to add to the list of ways you've failed your children by trying to earn a living to pay for their food.
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