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Family mealtimes: A contextual approach to understanding childhood obesity

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  • Fiese, Barbara H.
  • Hammons, Amber
  • Grigsby-Toussaint, Diana

Abstract

There has been a growing interest in the role that shared family mealtimes may play in promoting the health and well-being of children. Families that regularly eat their main meal together four or more times a week are more likely to have children who do better in school, are of average weight, less likely to use drugs and alcohol at an early age, and consume more fruits and vegetables. The mere fact that families eat together does not address the process by which shared family mealtimes may protect children from unhealthy weight gain. Just as there is no simple explanation for the rising rates of obesity, the link between shared family mealtimes and childhood obesity is a complex one including socioeconomic and cultural context. In this paper, we provide an overview of how shared family mealtimes are embedded in a socio-cultural context that may either support or derail healthy eating patterns for children and youth. Evidence from an observational study of 200 family mealtimes demonstrates the complex interplay between socio-economic factors, family mealtime behaviors, and child obesity status. Families who had a child of healthy weight spent more time engaged with each other during the meal, expressed more positive communication, and considered mealtimes more important and meaningful than families who had a child who was overweight or obese. Using a cumulative risk model, it was found that the combination of family level and neighborhood risk factors predicted child overweight status. Recommendations are made for future research directions and policies directed toward families living in diverse economic circumstances.

Suggested Citation

  • Fiese, Barbara H. & Hammons, Amber & Grigsby-Toussaint, Diana, 2012. "Family mealtimes: A contextual approach to understanding childhood obesity," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 10(4), pages 365-374.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ehbiol:v:10:y:2012:i:4:p:365-374
    DOI: 10.1016/j.ehb.2012.04.004
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Stifel, David C. & Averett, Susan L., 2009. "Childhood overweight in the United States: A quantile regression approach," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 7(3), pages 387-397, December.
    2. Cawley, John & Spiess, C. Katharina, 2008. "Obesity and skill attainment in early childhood," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 6(3), pages 388-397, December.
    3. Andreyeva, Tatiana & Kelly, Inas Rashad & Harris, Jennifer L., 2011. "Exposure to food advertising on television: Associations with children's fast food and soft drink consumption and obesity," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 9(3), pages 221-233, July.
    4. Cummins, Steven & Curtis, Sarah & Diez-Roux, Ana V. & Macintyre, Sally, 2007. "Understanding and representing 'place' in health research: A relational approach," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 65(9), pages 1825-1838, November.
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    Cited by:

    1. Alviola, Pedro A. & Nayga, Rodolfo M. & Thomsen, Michael R. & Danforth, Diana & Smartt, James, 2014. "The effect of fast-food restaurants on childhood obesity: A school level analysis," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 12(C), pages 110-119.
    2. Hanć, Tomasz & Czapla, Zbigniew & Szwed, Anita & Durda, Magdalena & Krotowska, Aleksandra & Cieślik, Joachim, 2015. "Growth and nutritional status of children from dysfunctional families with alcohol addicted parents in Poland," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 18(C), pages 101-109.
    3. Fiese, Barbara H. & Gundersen, Craig & Koester, Brenda & Jones, Blake, 2016. "Family chaos and lack of mealtime planning is associated with food insecurity in low income households," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 21(C), pages 147-155.
    4. Walsh, Brendan & Cullinan, John, 2015. "Decomposing socioeconomic inequalities in childhood obesity: Evidence from Ireland," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 16(C), pages 60-72.
    5. Jo, Young, 2014. "What money can buy: Family income and childhood obesity," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 15(C), pages 1-12.
    6. Mandal, Bidisha & Powell, Lisa M., 2014. "Child care choices, food intake, and children's obesity status in the United States," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 14(C), pages 50-61.
    7. Wen, Ming & Maloney, Thomas N., 2014. "Neighborhood socioeconomic status and BMI differences by immigrant and legal status: Evidence from Utah," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 12(C), pages 120-131.
    8. Averett, Susan L. & Fletcher, Erin K., 2015. "The Relationship between Maternal Pre-Pregnancy BMI and Preschool Obesity," IZA Discussion Papers 9608, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).

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    Keywords

    Family mealtimes; Child obesity;

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