A new study has found that the quality of family interaction during mealtime is directly related to children’s health, specifically in children with asthma. The observational study, published in the journal Child Development, looked at 200 families with children ages 5 to 12 who had persistent asthma, observing how they interacted during a video-recorded meal in their homes.
Although mealtimes lasted on average only 18 minutes, the study found that the quality of social interactions as families ate was directly related to the children’s health, including how their lungs worked, their asthma symptoms, and the quality of their lives (specifically, how the disease interfered with their daily life and whether it prevented them from engaging in certain activities). Simply put, in families that spent mealtimes talking about the day’s events, showing genuine concern about their children’s activities, and turning off electronic devices, children had better health.
Families in which the primary caregiver had less education, minority families, and single-parent families experienced more disruptions during mealtime—including watching TV and talking on cell phones—and spent less time talking about they day’s events. This led to a more disorganized mealtime, which, in turn, was related to poorer health for the children in these families.
“[Mealtimes] provide an optimal setting for public health initiatives and prevention efforts, and can be considered by policymakers and practitioners as a straightforward and accessible way to improve the health and wellbeing of children with asthma,” said Barbara H. Fiese, PhD, professor of human and community development, and director of the Family Resiliency Center, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Source: Society for Research in Child Development