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Contact: Gayle Coleman, 608-265-4975
Email: gayle.coleman@ces.uwex.edu
Entry Date: November, 2007
File Under: Child Development

Family meals boost children’s health--especially when the TV is off

Madison, Wis. - Looking for ways to connect with your children and help them be healthier? Sharing meals together and turning off the television during your meal are two ways for parents to encourage their children to make healthier food choices, maintain a healthy weight, and share family interests and values.

“The importance of family meals and limiting the amount of time children spend watching TV have received a lot of attention recently, especially in light of growing concerns about childhood obesity,” says Gayle Coleman, nutrition education program specialist with the University of Wisconsin-Extension.

Studies conducted at the University of Minnesota, Harvard and Rutgers found that the more often adolescents ate family meals with their parents, the more likely they were to eat fruits, vegetables and calcium-rich foods such as milk, and the less likely they were to drink sweetened beverages such as soda. When the television was off during family meals, adolescents ate more dark green/yellow vegetables and calcium-rich foods, and fewer sweetened beverages than when the television was on during family meals.

“We also know that children who are overweight spend more time watching TV than children who are not overweight,” says Coleman. Not only are children inactive while watching television, but they also are being exposed to persuasive advertisements for high fat, high sugar foods.

Research has shown that young children who eat with other family members tend to eat more from the basic food groups such as fruits and vegetables. “Young children are much more likely to eat vegetables when they see mom or dad eating vegetables,” says Coleman.

Family meals also provide opportunities to talk with children and build family bonds. They may even contribute to young children’s language and brain development and help protect adolescents against use of tobacco, alcohol and marijuana, poor grades in school, depression, suicide and eating disorders.

With today’s busy lifestyles, it can be difficult to find time to eat together. Coleman suggests that parents plan for at least one meal together as a family each week, and try not to let other things interfere. Some families find it’s easier to eat breakfast together than other meals during the day. Other families find weekends to be the best times. “Show that family meals are important by turning off the television and cell phones,” advises Coleman.

Parents might not have the power to control all of the things in their environment that affect their children’s health and well-being. But they can make a point of eating meals with their children and turning off the television.

For more information on the importance of family meals, contact your local UW-Extension county office.

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