Less family discouragement and better family communication is associated with a higher likelihood to eat evening family meals and family breakfasts together, and not in front of a television, according to the paper, ‘Family Meal Practices and Weight Talk Between Adult Weight Management and Weight Loss Surgery Patients and Their Children’, published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.
Researchers studied 259 parents who were also patients at either The Ohio State University or Wake Forest University accredited weight management programmes (n=101, WMPs) and bariatric surgery (n=158, weight loss surgery, WLS) and their children (aged 2–18 years), and identify predictors associated with specific family meal practices and weight talk among patients. This is the first study specifically looking at family meal practices among adult patients enrolled in weight-management or weight-loss surgery programmes.
They found that patients had increased odds of engaging in family dinners if they reported lower family discouragement (p=0.003) and had younger children (p<0.001), and increased odds of engaging in family breakfast if they had higher family communication ( p=0.002) and younger children (p=0.020).
"It's important to note all family members in the home have influence," said lead study author, Dr Keeley J Pratt, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, USA, said of the findings that any family member can influence the adoption and maintenance of healthy patterns and behaviours in the home. "Even if someone doesn't have the most power to influence the family (like children), they are all influencing each other."
Previous research has shown parental obesity is typically the strongest risk factor for children to have an obese weight status over time. The study's authors also found parents who perceived their child to be overweight or obese were more than four times as likely to talk to them about the child's weight, also called ‘weight talk’.
While open communication with children about health is beneficial, "it's important to ensure communication directly about children's weight is not harmful in their development of a healthy body image and behaviours. That includes older children and adolescents who are at greater risk of developing eating disorders and disordered eating behaviours," added Pratt.
There was no significant difference between male and female children in this study other than families with female children were more likely to eat dinner together without a television five to seven times a week. Families with younger children, regardless of gender, were more likely to eat family dinners and breakfasts together, and parents of older children were more likely to talk about their own weight with the child.
The paper concluded that “additional research assessing the family meal practices and weight talk in the families of adults pursuing weight loss could yield important evidence that could lead to improved patient outcomes, and safely promote healthy behaviours and prevention of obesity in children.”
"Understanding these associations will provide essential evidence needed to design future family-based interventions for these patients to help in their behaviour change and weight loss, prevent the onset of obesity in children, and enhance positive family meal practices and healthy communication about weight," Professor Pratt said.