London: Want your child to shun junk food and be healthy? Then, ensure that all your family members dine together, scientists say.
Researchers at the University of Illinois in the US found that children who sit down to eat with their families are less likely and eat unhealthy foods and to be overweight.
They found youngsters who ate with their parents at least three times a week were 12 per cent less likely to be overweight, the Daily Mail reported.
The children were also 20 per cent less likely to eat junk food, 35 per cent less likely to have eating problems like skipping meals or bingeing, and 24 per cent more likely
to eat vegetables and other healthy foods.
"Sitting down together as a family, there are nutritional benefits from that," said Amber Hammons, who led the study at the the University of Illinois at Urbana.
However, the latest paper reviewed 17 studies that were based on observations not actual experiments, and Professor Hammons acknowledged this didn`t prove shared meals trim
"It`s just an association," she said.
"Families who sit down together could be healthier to begin with."
One in six boys and one in seven girls were classed as obese in 2008 in the UK alone.
The number of overweight children was also around one in seven.
The extra pounds can affect a child`s self-esteem and sets them up for health problems such as heart disease and diabetes.
The new study, published in the journal Pediatrics, is based on findings from nearly 183,000 children about 2 to 17 years of age.
While those studies yielded mixed results and weren`t easy to compare, overall they show regular family meals are tied to better nutrition.
Professor Hammons said it`s possible that parents may influence and monitor their kids more during shared meals.
"We also know that families that sit down together are less likely to eat high-calorie food," she added.
As a result, the researchers encourage families to spend more time together around the dinner table.
"It doesn`t have to be every day," Professor Hammons said. "We know that families are very busy."