Researcher: Healthier lives can start with family meals

Dianne Neumark-Sztainer
Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.
Mark Zdechlik/MPR Photo

Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, said her research shows children who eat with their families at home tend to drink less soda and eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

"We have found that family meals, more frequent family meals, are associated with better dietary outcomes," said Neumark-Sztainer, who specializes in eating disorders and obesity prevention in teenagers.

With frequent family meals, children are at a lower risk for eating disorders and obesity. In addition, family meals can have a positive effect on emotional well-being, Neumark-Sztainer said.

"The meeting together--that opportunity to share time, to share thoughts--is also equally or more important," she said.

Neumark-Sztainer said getting teenagers to come to the dinner table can be a challenge, but she said changes can happen if they're implemented gradually.

"The advantage that we have is that teenagers are hungry," she said. "Talk to them, see what might work for them."

And parents who talk constantly about weight and eating right are likely on the wrong path, she said.

"Talk less about weight, do more to make your home environment a place where it's easier for children to make healthy eating and physical activity choices. Too often we do the opposite," she said.

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