Eating together as a family at the dinner table — without phones — may be key to combating obesity

CATALONIA, Spain — It’s not just the Mediterranean diet that can keep you healthy — so can the Mediterranean way of eating as a family, according to a new study. Researchers say that eating together at the dinner table without phones could be key to combating childhood obesity.

While the Mediterranean diet has long been seen as having health benefits, researchers have found its cultural traditions of conversation and slower eating can even prevent eating disorders.

Food experts have studied how the Covid-19 pandemic has shaped family mealtimes with many households attempting to strip away digital devices at dinner and share a moment together. Interviews with teenagers have shown vast improvement in their health without their phones or tablets at the table. Researchers note that slower eating and conversation can help adolescents to recognize how to feel full.

The researchers analyzed the frequency and duration of family meals, where it took place, the use of digital devices, the preparation of food and the type of communication. They discovered the majority of families they studied in Catalonia only ate an evening meal together and their eating habits varied depending on whether they ate alone or with loved ones.

When families devoted less time to each other, did not sit at the table, were distracted by phones or did not engage in conversation, they also ate more unhealthily. Parents also found they were able to forge closer bonds with their teenage children if they ate together, and those who were role models and established healthy eating patterns for their children were more successful.

“It is easier when children are small, but in adolescence there is a disconnect between you and them and, thanks to these conversations, you can gain a little insight into their world,” one parent told researchers.

The study tied in with other results which demonstrate eating together as a family is related to a healthier diet, with more fruit and vegetables, and less sugary drinks.

“At a time when lockdown due to the pandemic has revived family meals, this study indicates one of the possible positive aspects of the situation that we have had to confront,” explains professor Anna Bach-Faig at the Open University of Catalonia, in a statement. “A healthy diet is not just what we eat but also how we eat it. The Mediterranean diet is much more than a list of foods. It is a cultural model which includes how these foods are selected, produced, processed and consumed.”

She adds: “Just as we recommend five fruit and veg a day, we could also propose at least one family meal a day.”

The study is published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

SWNS writer Joe Morgan contributed to this report.

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