MONDAY, May 2 (HealthDay News) -- Eating meals with their families helps keep kids slimmer and healthier, a new study finds.
Researchers pooled data from 17 earlier studies and found that youngsters who joined family members regularly for meals were 24 percent more likely to eat healthy foods than kids who rarely ate with their families. They were also less likely to suffer from eating disorders.
Parents can "really relate to and understand" the findings, published in the May 2 issue of Pediatrics, said study lead author Amber Hammons, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
"We wanted to look at the family's contribution to positive outcomes as it relates to nutrition," added Hammons. "It's important for parents to know what they can do, especially with obesity and eating habits; they want to know what role they can play."
Through an Internet search in 2009, researchers at the university's Family Resiliency Center obtained relevant studies involving almost 183,000 children and teens ranging from roughly 3 to 17 years old. They looked at the youths' eating habits, weight, and whether they did anything harmful to control it.
Those who ate three or more meals a week with their families were 12 percent less likely to be overweight than those who ate few or no meals with their families, and 20 percent less likely to eat sweets, fried foods, soda, and other unhealthy foods.
Eating five or more meals together reduced the likelihood of poor nutrition by 25 percent, an analysis of eight of the studies revealed.
Kids who ate with their families also were 35 percent less likely to engage in "disordered eating" behaviors aimed at losing weight, such as binge-eating, purging, taking diet pills or laxatives, vomiting, skipping meals or smoking.
Participants were deemed overweight if they had a body
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