Spending just three minutes extra at the dinner table can keep youngsters thin
Families who enjoyed 20-minute dinners were less likely to have an obese child than those who spent 17 minutesStudy reveals importance of having scheduled mealtime

Claire Bates


10:39 GMT, 21 January 2013



10:39 GMT, 21 January 2013

Parents can cut the chances of their children getting fat simply by keeping them longer at the dinner table.

Just three minutes extra at a family mealtime could help tackle child obesity, a study shows.

Research found that amongst poorer families, the extra minutes invested in mealtimes made a measurable improvement to maintaining a normal weight for the youngsters.

Dinnertime: Parents who engage over mealtimes can help their children to stay healthy

Dinnertime: Parents who engage over mealtimes can help their children to stay healthy

The factors at play are likely to be communication and the importance of a scheduled mealtime, say researchers from the University of Illinois.

Dr Barbara Fiese said: 'Children whose families engaged with each other over a 20-minute meal four times a week weighed significantly less than kids who left the table after 15 to 17 minutes.

'Over time, those extra minutes per meal add up and become really powerful.'

The researchers observed 200 family
mealtimes, testing the cumulative effects of socioeconomic factors and
mealtime behaviours of families with children in primary school.

They found that families who said that
shared mealtimes are an important part of family life and have special
meaning for them were less likely to have an obese child.

Dr Barbara Fiese

Dr Barbara Fiese: Teaching families how to make the most of mealtimes is a 'viable intervention'

Similarly, families who talked more
together and interacted more positively during the meal were more likely
to have healthy-weight children.

Dr Fiese said that teaching low-income families how to make the most of family mealtimes was a viable intervention.

She said: 'This is something we can
target and teach. It's much more difficult to change such factors as
marital status, maternal education, or neighbourhood poverty.'

added: 'It's also important to recognize the increasing diversity of
families and their sometimes complex living arrangements that may
challenge their abilities to plan ahead and arrange a single time to
communicate with each other.'

She said that families in poorer US neighbourhoods faced a multitude of problems, including poor access to healthy food.

But even with these risk factors accouted for, regular high quality family mealtimes made a difference to the children's weight.

Dr Fiese said: 'Three to four extra minutes per meal made a healthy weight more likely.'