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Dining at Home May Combat Obesity

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Americans are dining at home to stay safe and save money, and it might help curb the obesity epidemic.

By Kate Stone

The COVID-19 pandemic had a dramatic impact on the way people in the United States live and dine. For the sake of both safety and economy, Americans are cooking and eating meals at home more than they have in decades, and that may come with an additional benefit.

Adolescent obesity in the United States has been on the rise for a while, accompanied by the likelihood that obesity will carry forward into adulthood. Fortunately, researchers from the University of Minnesota and Columbia University have reported that families dining at home together may help reduce obesity.

Part of the benefit of dining at home instead of in a restaurant seems to come from the ingredients. On average, home-cooked family meals tend to include more fruits, vegetables, calcium, and whole grains than quick food eaten on the go. However, cooking and eating a meal at home together can be emotionally beneficial as well.

Jerica M. Berge and colleagues collected data from 2,287 people over 10 years in a study conveniently dubbed Project EAT (Eating and Activity among Teens) to examine weight-related variables. These variables included dietary intake, physical activity, and weight control behaviors among adolescents. “It is important to identify modifiable factors in the home environment, such as family meals, that can protect against overweight/obesity through the transition to adulthood,” Dr. Berge says.

In the study, 51 percent of the teens were overweight and 22 percent were obese. Among adolescents who reported that they never ate family meals together, 60% were overweight and 29% were obese 10 years later. Overall, teens in the study who sat down to eat family meals had a significantly lower obesity rate than those who did not. Of course, there might be other variables at play. This does not mean that eating a fast food burger with the family is any healthier than eating a fast food burger alone in the car.

dining at home vs unhealthy eating habits
According to the researchers, while dining at home with family appears to be healthier that dining out, this does not mean that eating a fast food burger with the family is any healthier than eating a fast food burger alone in the car. (Photo by Eric Molina)

Family meals may be protective against obesity or overweight because coming together for meals may provide opportunities for emotional connections among family members, the food is more likely to be healthful, and adolescents may be exposed to parental modeling of healthful eating behaviors. Using this information, public health and health care professionals who work with adolescents can give parents another tool in the fight against obesity.

Reference

Berge, J. M., Wall, M., Hsueh, T.-F., Fulkerson, J. A., Larson, N., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2015). The Protective Role of Family Meals for Youth Obesity: 10-Year Longitudinal Associations. The Journal of Pediatrics166(2), 296–301. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpeds.2014.08.030‌

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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