Making home-cooked dinners and switching off the television while eating could go hand-in-hand with fighting obesity, according to new research in the United States.
The new study, carried out by Ohio State University, looked at 12,842 participants who said that they’d eaten at least one family meal in the week prior to their interview.
One third of the study participants were obese, with obesity calculated from self-reported height and weight measures collected in the survey and defined as a body mass index at or above 30.
After taking into account factors such as employment status, marital status, race, education and age, the researchers found that adults who reported never watching TV or videos during family meals had a significantly lower chance of obesity compared to those who always watched something during mealtimes.
Around a third of participants reporting that they watched TV or videos most of the time during family meals, with 36 percent reporting that they never watched anything during mealtimes.
Those whose ate home-cooked family meals also had lower odds of obesity than other adults who ate some or no home-cooked meals.
More than half of participants reported eating family meals on most days, 35 percent on some days and 13 percent a few days per week. However, the frequency of family meals did not make much of a difference to obesity risk.
The study also found that the lowest odds of obesity were found for adults who engaged in both healthy practices—eating home-cooked food and eating without a TV or video on—every time they ate a family meal.
Commenting on the results lead author Rachel Tumin said, “How often you are eating family meals may not be the most important thing. It could be that what you are doing during these meals matters more.”
“This highlights the importance of thinking critically about what is going on during those meals, and whether there might be opportunities to turn the TV off or do more of your own food preparation.”
However, Tumin also added that although the frequency of eating together as a family was not found to be a contibutor to obesity, family meals can still offer other perks, including social and emotional health.
The study can be found published online in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. JB