As preparations begin for Thanksgiving feasts around the country, there’s good news on the dinner front: Families are eating more home-cooked meals together every day, not just on special occasions.
That’s one of the encouraging trends revealed in a recent American Dietetic Association survey, which found that nearly 73 percent of children sit down with their families for dinner on school nights today, compared with 52 percent six years ago.
The survey also found that family visits to fast food restaurants have decreased over the past six years.
And since 2003 there has been a 93 percent increase in the number of children who are physically active with their parents three or more days a week, (although the rate of activity is still much lower than national recommendations).
All are signs, according to the ADA Foundation, that there may be some progress toward resolving the childhood obesity epidemic.
Numerous studies published throughout the past decade have hailed the benefits of routine family contact and home-cooked meals, which include lower obesity rates, higher grades and increased confidence.
There are negative consequences for children who don’t take part in regular family meals. A study conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, for example, found that teens who have infrequent family dinners are much more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol in the future.
But the biggest advantage to sharing a meal at home may be that the food is likely to be more nutritious. Families who dine together generally consume fewer trans fats, less fried food, soda and other less nutritious foods, but are more likely to eat vegetables and fruit, according to an article published on WebMD.
Is it enough?
“Families are making progress towards improving the quality of their diets, but there is still much work to be done to ensure that children and families are getting the adequate amounts of the right foods and nutrients. For instance, children know what not to eat, but less than 25 percent of children and parents could name the foods they should eat the most,” said registered dietitian Dr. Katie Brown, the national education director for the ADA Foundation in a news release.
The ADA Foundation survey also found that:
— Less than 25 percent of parents and their children correctly identified grains as the food group from which the most servings should be consumed daily. The most common answer was vegetables.
— When asked from which food group a person should eat the fewest servings daily, the majority correctly identified the fats, oils and sweets group.
— 56 percent of Caucasian, 75 percent of African-American and 65 percent of Hispanic children eat from the school lunch line. Children from low-income homes have the highest rate of consuming school lunch (82 to 89 percent).
The American Dietetic Association Foundation’s 2010 Family Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey was fielded in February of 2010 by the independent custom survey research company Knowledge Networks, which surveyed 1,193 children, ages 8 to 17, and their parents.
Survey results were released by the ADA Foundation this month; more information can be found at www.eatright.org.