You know how studies show family dinners lower your kids’ risk for becoming drug abusers, alcoholics and obese, illiterate ne’er-do-wells? Well, researchers have found yet another advantage of nightly sit-downs.
Talking around the dinner table is linked with better health in children who have asthma.
Researchers looked at 200 families that included 5- to 12-year-olds who have persistent asthma. They observed nightly family dinners and recorded the amount of time parents and kids talked with each other, and how many interruptions there were in the meal from phones or TV or other distractions.
What they found was the fewer interruptions — and more talking amongst the family members — the less severe the asthma symptoms. Those kids of talkers had a better quality of life and also kept up with their treatments more consistently than the kids whose dinners had been frequently or somewhat interrupted. What’s interesting is that the mealtimes studied only averaged 18.7 minutes.
So what accounts for the better outcomes, since researchers didn’t find food quality to be a factor? Here’s what the study’s author says in the Los Angeles Times Booster Shots blog:
“Of course, it is not possible to effectively communicate about personal events of the day if attention is turned to the television or catching up with a best friend on a cellphone. In terms of asthma symptoms and medical adherence, it may be that mealtime conversations afford one opportunity to observe wheezing, coughing, and to check in on whether the child has taken his or her medication that day.”
Families headed by single, less-educated, Latino or non-white caregivers had more distractions during meals. Here’s what the lead researchers advise for all:
“Communication is by far the most important ingredient. The average family meal takes 18 minutes, and I’d allot about two minutes to action, four minutes to behavior control, and 12 minutes to positive communication that affirms kids’ importance, helps them resolve troublesome issues, and reminds them to take their medicine or write a thank-you note.”
The study appears in the latest issue of the journal Child Development.