For a study in the November 2014 issue of Pediatrics, researchers set up video cameras in families’ homes to observe how parents and children interacted during a week’s worth of meals. The study, “Childhood Obesity and Interpersonal Dynamics During Family Meals,” published online Oct. 13, included 120 children and parents from low-income and minority communities. Researchers noted the length and type of meals served, how family members interacted during meals, and how those factors related to child weight status. Meals lasted an average of 16 minutes. More than half took place in the kitchen or dining room; 28 percent of family meals took place in either the family room or another room in the house, such as an office or bedroom. About 61 percent of families had some type of screen device on during the meal. In most families, parents pre-plated their children’s meal, rather than allowing the child to serve himself or herself. Study authors found significant associations between positive family dynamics, such as encouraging statements from parents and group enjoyment at family meals, and a reduced risk of child overweight. Children who were overweight had shorter meal times and ate more often in rooms other than the kitchen. Children who were not overweight were more likely to have a father or stepfather at the meal. According to the authors, the study suggests the importance of working with families to improve family interactions at meals.
The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 62,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults.