All in the family: Dinner tables linked to less obesity

Brian Wansink

Beyond plate size and calorie and carbohydrate counts, the war against obesity may have a better front – the dinner table. Eating dinner with kin (and without the TV on) is linked to lower body mass, reports a Cornell behavioral economist in the journal Obesity.

Families that eat together frequently – and stay seated at the table until everyone’s finished – have children with lower weights and Body Mass Index (BMI). This is especially strong with boys.

Strong, positive socialization skills that dinners foster possibly supplant the need to overeat, explain the researchers. Mothers and fathers who talk meaningfully with children about their day at the dinner table also have lower BMIs.

“The ritual of where one eats and how long one eats seems to be the largest driver,” said Brian Wansink, professor in Cornell’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab. He co-authored the study with Ellen Van Kleef, assistant professor at Wageningen University, the Netherlands.

But families that eat dinner while watching television can turn chubby, as the researchers linked that to higher BMIs. “In fact, eating anywhere other than the kitchen or dining room was related to higher BMIs in both parents and in children,” said Wansink.

“By focusing on family dining rituals, this research departs from the more food-centric approaches. Dinner starts with meal preparation, and while being involved in meal preparation was unrelated to the BMI of young boys, it was positively correlated with the index of young girls,” said Wansink. “Family meals and their rituals might be an underappreciated battleground to fight obesity.”

The study, “Dinner Rituals that Correlate with Child and Adult BMI,” was published online in Obesity, Oct. 1, and was funded by the Cornell Food and Brand Lab.

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