Background: Family meals have been found to be associated with a number of health benefits for children; however, associations with obesity have been less consistent, which raises questions about the specific characteristics of family meals that may be protective against childhood obesity. The current study examined associations between interpersonal and food-related family dynamics at family meals and childhood obesity status.
Methods: The current mixed-methods, cross-sectional study included 120 children (47% girls; mean age: 9 years) and parents (92% women; mean age: 35 years) from low-income and minority communities. Families participated in an 8-day direct observational study in which family meals were video-recorded in their homes. Family meal characteristics (eg, length of the meal, types of foods served) were described and associations between dyadic (eg, parent-child, child-sibling) and family-level interpersonal and food-related dynamics (eg, communication, affect management, parental food control) during family meals and child weight status were examined.
Results: Significant associations were found between positive family- and parent-level interpersonal dynamics (ie, warmth, group enjoyment, parental positive reinforcement) at family meals and reduced risk of childhood overweight. In addition, significant associations were found between positive family- and parent-level food-related dynamics (ie, food warmth, food communication, parental food positive reinforcement) and reduced risk of childhood obesity.
Conclusions: Results extend previous findings on family meals by providing a better understanding of interpersonal and food-related family dynamics at family meals by childhood weight status. Findings suggest the importance of working with families to improve the dyadic and family-level interpersonal and food-related dynamics at family meals.
Keywords: childhood obesity; direct observation; family dynamics; family meals.
Copyright © 2014 by the American Academy of Pediatrics.