Study of the Day: Kids in Families That Eat at Home Are Healthier

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A literature review on family dining habits shows that children who seldom eat out consume less soda and more fruits and vegetables.

Study of the Day
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PROBLEM: Over 40 percent of the typical American family's food budget is spent on eating out, a trend that has time and again been linked to bad food choices, increased obesity risk, and poor nutritional status.

METHODOLOGY: Rutgers researchers led by Jennifer Martin-Biggers reviewed 68 published studies that investigated the relationship between family mealtime and children's health. They looked at how frequency or atmosphere of family meals was related to consumption of both healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and less desirable treats like soft drinks. The researchers also evaluated if the totality of scientific evidence thus far supports the claim that more frequent family meals decreases the risk of obesity.

RESULTS: Children who had frequent family meals tended to eat more fruits, vegetables, fiber, calcium-rich foods, and vitamins; and less dietary components thought to be harmful to one's health. Although the researchers found only a weak link between family meals and reduced obesity risk, kids in families with more family meals tended to have lower body mass indices than those who ate outside the home more often.

CONCLUSION: Eating as a family at home may lead to healthier food choices, but its relation to obesity remains a mystery.

SOURCE: The full study, "Benefits of Family Mealtime Across the Growing Years: A Conceptual Model," was presented at American Society for Nutrition's Experimental Biology 2012.

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Hans Villarica writes for and produces The Atlantic's Health channel. His work has appeared in TIME, People Asia, and Fast Company.

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