Engaging in family meals starts with healthy family communication

June 8, 2020

Engaging in family meals may be a matter of improving communication and support at home. A new study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior connects less family discouragement and better family communication with a higher likelihood to eat evening family meals and family breakfasts together, and not in front of a television.

Researchers studied 259 parents who were also patients at either The Ohio State University or Wake Forest Baptist Health accredited weight management and bariatric surgery facilities in the United States. They found parents who had better family communication and lower discouragement about trying to improve their eating habits were more likely to participate in family meals. 

“We found that for adults participating in a weight management program, positive communication and less family discouragement for making an eating habit change were associated with more frequent healthy family meal practices, such as eating meals together and not eating in front of the television,” said Callie L. Brown, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at Wake Forest Baptist and senior author of the study. 

“Additionally, parents had higher odds of talking about their child’s weight status if the child was perceived to be overweight or obese. Support and encouragement from the entire family, including children, is important for effective adult participation in a weight management program. Family members should focus on making healthy changes together, and not focus on the parent or child’s weight or weight status.” 

Previous research has shown parental obesity is typically the strongest risk factor for children to have an obese weight status over time. The study’s authors also found parents who perceived their child to be overweight or obese were more than 4 times as likely to talk to them about the child’s weight, also called “weight talk”.

While open communication with children about health is beneficial, "it's important to ensure communication directly about children's weight is not harmful in their development of a healthy body image and behaviors. That includes older children and adolescents who are at greater risk of developing eating disorders and disordered eating behaviors,” said lead study author Keeley J. Pratt, Ph.D., Ohio State University.

There was no significant difference between male and female children in this study other than families with female children were more likely to eat dinner together without a television 5-7 times a week. Families with younger children, regardless of gender, were more likely to eat family dinners and breakfasts together, and parents of older children were more likely to talk about their own weight with the child.

This was the first study specifically looking at family meal practices among adult patients enrolled in weight-management or weight-loss surgery programs.

Media Contact

Marguerite Beck, marbeck@wakehealth.edu336-716-6841