European children who regularly have breakfast and dinner with their parents considerably less likely to be overweight, according to new research

LONDON , June 30, 2014 () – Children might find eating with their parents a chore but new research has found those who regularly have breakfast and dinner with their parents are considerably less likely to be overweight.

Experts said parents who ate with their children were not only more likely to be ensuring meals were nutritious and healthy, but togetherness at mealtimes was a marker for family cohesion, which carried other health benefits.

The findings were presented at the European Congress on Obesity and come as health authorities in England called on the food industry to "step up to the plate" and take part in a universal food labelling system. Only around 60 percent have adopted the successful "traffic light" food labels which warn shoppers if a product has high levels of salt, sugar or fat, the Local Government Association said, warning current confusion was "fuelling the obesity crisis".

The European mealtime study surveyed 8 000 children in eight countries. Researchers found those who ate breakfast with their parents five to seven times a week were as much as 40 percent less likely to be overweight than those who had a family breakfast just two to three times a week. The effect was similar, but slightly smaller, for dinner.

Overall, children from families which ate together more regularly were 30 percent less likely to be overweight.

Intriguingly, the same effect was not seen in children who regularly ate at lunch time with their parents, who were in fact more likely to be overweight, said researchers from the University of Adger in Norway.

The study did not look at the dining habits of children in the UK, but experts said the findings carried particular lessons for UK families, because the British tend to work longer hours and have less time to spend with their children.

Dr Gavin Sandercock, senior lecturer in clinical physiology at the University of Essex, said even eating together occasionally is of benefit. "It seems to have a big impact," he said. "So, while doing it every day would be ideal, maybe just encouraging people to have breakfast or dinner as a family a couple of times a week would be helpful."

The health benefits of eating breakfast are well-established, not least in cutting levels of unhealthy snacking throughout the day. In the UK, around a third of children often go to school without breakfast, according to Sandercock's research. However, evidence of the benefits of a family dinner were new, he added.

"Eating dinner together is probably a marker of family cohesion and family organisation," he said. "Dinner doesn't make you thin, but if a family is organised they are more likely to do organised, physical activity. It's also a likely indicator of parental rules, which could be rules on snacking (or) rules on things like television time."

Dr Frøydis Vik, from the University of Adger's Department of Public Health, said the findings suggest families who ate together generally had a healthier lifestyle, but admitted that the negative associations of a family lunch were "unexpected".

She said they might be due to children returning home from school for lunch and having a rushed meal. - The Independent

Weekend Argus

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