"When children were part of families that 'followed the recipe,' their asthma symptoms were less severe and they were more apt to take their medicine. They also tended to worry less about their symptoms, and they were able to engage more fully in activities at school and after school," Fiese said.
When mealtimes had more distractions, asthma symptoms were more pronounced, she said.
"In families headed by a single parent or when the primary caregiver had less education, we found that mealtimes contained more disruptions, including watching TV and talking on cell phones, and less time talking about the day's events. If there's a lot of confusion, it's hard for family members to follow conversations," she said.
Single parents and those with less education also spent more time controlling behavior and were likely to use harsher methods to restore order to the family table. It's not that being a single parent or lower levels of education cause more disruptions during mealtimes. Rather, it may be that families with fewer resources find it difficult to manage time and need more assistance, she said.
According to Fiese, children thrive on routine, and disorganized meals are related to poorer health for the children who participate in them. These children are believed to be at highest risk for poorly controlled asthma and are most likely to use the emergency room for health care.
"We need to pay attention to the chronic stress that compromises health in low-income families that have few resources," she said.
Recent research suggests that poor organizationa lot of chaos in the family environment disrupts learning and predicts poor social and emotional development, she noted.
"Family mealtimes that follow these ABC guidelines are an important ritual that parents can use to counter that trend," she said.
|Contact: Phyllis Picklesimer|
University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences