Family dinners star again
in a study of childhood obesity. Children who sit down to eat with their
parents at least three times a week were 12 per cent less likely to be
overweight, American researchers found.
The youngsters were also 20 per cent less likely to eat junk
food, 35 per cent less likely to have eating problems like skipping meals or
bingeing, and 24 per cent more likely to eat vegetables and other healthy
foods. The findings come from a
review of 17 studies
that were based on observations not actual experiments, so the evidence is suggestive
rather than conclusive. Still, it makes sense.
[Researcher] Professor Hammons said it’s possible that parents may influence
and monitor their kids more during shared meals. ‘We also know that families
that sit down together are less likely to eat high-calorie food,’ she added.
As a result, the researchers encourage families to spend more time together
around the dinner table. ‘It doesn’t have to be every day,’ Professor Hammons
said. ‘We know that families are very busy.’
But maybe that’s conceding too much. Certainly families should aim at more than three times a week.
Another obesity study (of Hispanic parents and children in
West Texas) has found that children
with TVs in their bedrooms were more likely to be overweight.
On average, the whole group of children, aged 5 to 9,
watched more than the recommended maximum of two hours a day: those with TV in
their bedroom 3.5 hours a day and the others nearly three hours.
“Bedroom TVs lead to more screen time, sedentary behavior,
less parental support of physical activity and increased fast food intake,”
said Du Feng, Ph.D., lead study author.
“Seventy percent of the children had a TV in their bedroom, and 32 percent
were already overweight or they were at risk for becoming overweight due to
unhealthy behaviors,” Feng said.
Another specialist comments:
“You wouldn’t allow a stranger to sit alone with your child
in their bedroom and to try to sell them things, would you?” said Dipesh
Navsaria, M.D., a professor of pediatrics at University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Besides greater exposure to advertising, TV in the bedroom
can also lead to sleep disruption — a child waking up during the night may
turn it on and so lose more sleep, which is another risk for obesity.
Parents often go against their better judgement in allowing a
TV in a child’s room, says Prof Navsaria, so family health education is
“I have seen multiple times when a parent felt that a TV in
a child’s bedroom was not a good idea, but they didn’t feel empowered to remove
it unless and until I told them it was important they do so,” he said.
Parents clearly need more support.