UF studying the value of families eating meals together


Published: Sunday, October 28, 2012 at 6:07 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, October 28, 2012 at 6:07 p.m.

Families who eat together at meals at least three times a week tend to have healthier kids and stronger family ties, and a new study at the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions is investigating why.

Dr. David Janicke, an associate professor in the department of clinical and health psychology, is leading the Family Mealtime Project, which will look at meal habits of 30 Gainesville area families.

"Family mealtime is very important," Janicke said. "The interactions are a microcosm of the family environment in general."

The mealtime might be the only time the family spends together, Janicke added, so it allows parents not only to introduce foods to their kids, teach them manners and model healthy eating habits, but solve problems and show a general interest in their children.

"Routine is really important for kids. A lot of research shows that families who eat three meals a week or more have more connectedness," Janicke said. In these families, children consume more fruits and vegetables and fewer soft drinks. They also have fewer eating disorders.

"Certainly one of the things we have seen is that families who spend more time together have kids who have a healthier weight status," Janicke said.

Barbara Fiese, director of the Family Resiliency Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said that families who spend at least 20 minutes together at mealtimes have children of healthier weights. Those families tend to engage in more positive forms of communication, Fiese added. "It's as simple as that dreaded question, ‘What happened at school today?' "

"Families that have the television on at meals place their kids at an increased risk of weight-related problems," Fiese continued. "It takes away from these positive forms of communication. It becomes that extra person at the table not offering any positive feedback."

The UF study has already enrolled 13 families. The families have to be two-parent families with at least one child who is between the ages of 2 and 6.

"We want to look at them during the formative years. Ultimately, what we hope to do in follow-up studies is check in with families after a year or five years," Janicke said.

Families first fill out questionnaires and then are left with a video camera to record their mealtimes.

"Our initial concerns with a camera were that kids would act out and be a little different, and for the most part, that hasn't happened," Janicke said.

Two-parent families who live within a 50-mile radius of Gainesville who are interested in participating in the study can call 866-673-9623. Participating families will be compensated with a gift card to local stores.

Contact Kristine Crane at 338-3119 or Kristine.Crane@gvillesun.com.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

▲ Return to Top