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In minutes a day, low-income families can improve their kids' health
Date:1/17/2013

URBANA When low-income families devote three to four extra minutes to regular family mealtimes, their children's ability to achieve and maintain a normal weight improves measurably, according to a new University of Illinois study.

"Children whose families engaged with each other over a 20-minute meal four times a week weighed significantly less than kids who left the table after 15 to 17 minutes. Over time, those extra minutes per meal add up and become really powerful," said Barbara H. Fiese, director of the U of I's Family Resiliency Program.

Childhood obesity in low-income families is a complex problem with many contributing factors, which may include being part of a single-parent family, having a mother who has little education, and living in a poor neighborhood without easy access to healthy foods, she said.

But, even as these risk factors accumulated, the study found, low-income children's participation in regular high-quality family mealtimes made a difference in their weight status.

"Three to four extra minutes per meal made a healthy weight more likely," she said.

In the study, researchers observed 200 family mealtimes, testing the cumulative effects of socioeconomic factors and mealtime behaviors of families with children in elementary school. They noted the importance families placed on sharing a meal, efforts made to schedule family meals, and whether the family attached special meaning to this practice.

Socioeconomic circumstances mattered. Children raised in single-parent households were more likely to be overweight or obese than kids raised in two-parent families, she said.

And, at the neighborhood level, high concentrations of children living in poverty were associated with greater risks for childhood overweight or obesity in the home, she added.

Quality of interaction also mattered. Families who said that shared mealtimes are an important part of family life and have spec
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Contact: Phyllis Picklesimer
p-pickle@illinois.edu
217-244-2827
University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences
Source:Eurekalert

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