The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Rochester Medical Center, and Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, New York, looked at 200 families with children ages 5 to 12 who had persistent asthma, observing how they interacted during a video-recorded meal in their homes.
Although mealtimes lasted on average only 18 minutes, the study found that the quality of social interactions as families ate was directly related to the children’s health, including how their lungs worked, their asthma symptoms, and the quality of their lives.
Simply put, in families that spent mealtimes talking about the day’s events, showing genuine concern about their children’s activities, and turning off electronic devices, children had better health.
Families in which the primary caregiver had less education, minority families, and single-parent families experienced more disruptions during mealtime-including watching TV and talking on cell phones-and spent less time talking about the day’s events.
This led to a more disorganized mealtime, which, in turn, was related to poorer health for the children in these families.
“Mealtimes represent a regular event for the vast majority of families with young, school-age, and adolescent children,” noted Barbara H. Fiese of the University of Illinois.
“They provide an optimal setting for public health initiatives and prevention efforts, and can be considered by policymakers and practitioners as a straightforward and accessible way to improve the health and wellbeing of children with asthma,” she added.
The study has appeared in the January/February issue of the journal, Child Development.