The power of a family meal

December 7, 2018 — For busy families, gathering together for a meal—whether it’s breakfast or dinner—can be difficult. But a growing body of research shows that these meals together can have an important influence on the quality of food that children and teens eat. However, there’s been less research on effective ways to encourage families to eat together more often. In this week’s episode we’re speaking with Kathryn Walton, research fellow at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and a PhD student at the University of Guelph in Toronto, about a new study that could help public health professionals target interventions at busy families.

Walton and a team of researchers, including Bryn Austin, professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, found that when families sit down together for dinner, adolescents and young adults eat more fruits and vegetables and consume fewer fast-food and takeout items. What’s unique about this study is that Walton and her colleagues looked at the families participating in the meal—assessing how they communicated, managed schedules, and even bonded with children, something called family functioning. And they found that the benefits of family meals were seen regardless of how well—or poorly—a family functioned. We spoke with Walton about the findings of her study and how they could inform future initiatives to encourage families to eat together.

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Family Dinners Improve Teens’ Eating Habits No Matter How Well Family Functions, New U of G Study Finds