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U of I scientist: Public policy should promote family mealtimes

URBANA In a new report, University of Illinois professor Barbara H. Fiese urges local, state, and federal governments, businesses, and community leaders to promote family mealtimes as a matter of public policy.

"There are few things parents can do that are as effective in protecting their families as taking 18 to 20 minutes to eat together and talk with each other three to five times a week," said Fiese, a U of I professor of human development and family studies and the director of the U of I's Family Resiliency Center.

Research indicates the following benefits of family mealtimes:

  • Teens who eat five or more meals a week with their families are less likely to smoke cigarettes and marijuana and to abuse alcohol.

  • Children who take part in regular family mealtimes have greater vocabulary growth and higher academic achievement.

  • Frequently shared mealtimes protect against obesity in children and eating disorders in preteens and adolescents.

  • For young children, family mealtimes mean fewer behavior problems.

  • Teens who dine regularly with their families tend to eat more fruits and vegetables.

  • Meals prepared at home tend to be lower in calories and fat than restaurant fare.

"Most people don't think of family mealtimes as a policy issue, they think of them as private events. But sometimes policy makers work against the best interests of families," she noted.

According to Fiese, many decisions made at the local, state, and federal level affect families' ability to consume healthy foods. In our cities' poorer neighborhoods, residents are far more likely to find a convenience store stocked with snack foods than a grocery store that sells fresh produce and more healthful foods, she said.

"These food deserts exist even in Champaign-Urbana, which is located on some of the richest soil in the country. When families have to make an effort to create

Contact: Phyllis Picklesimer
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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