Children who eat meals together with parents or older siblings, even if only once or twice a week, consume more fruit and vegetables, suggests a new UK study.
In the study, dietary measurements of 2,389 children attending 52 primary schools were documented in a food diary (1). The diary included questions about the home food environment and parents’ attitudes to fruit and vegetables, for example "on average, how many nights a week does your family eat at a table?" and "do you cut up fruit and vegetables for your child to eat?”. The study results showed that 63% of children did not consume the World Health Organization’s recommended amount of five portions (400 g) of fruit and vegetables a day. Children who always ate a meal together with the family at a table consumed 125 g (1.5 portions) more fruit and vegetables on average than children who never ate with their families. Even those who reported eating together only once or twice a week consumed 95 g (1.2 portions) more than those who never ate together. In families where parents reported eating fruit and vegetables every day, children had on average one portion
(80 g) more than children whose parents never or rarely ate fruit and vegetables. Children whose parents always or sometimes cut up fruit and vegetables for them consumed, on average, half a portion (40 g) and quarter of a portion more, respectively, than children of parents who never cut up their fruit and vegetables.
The researchers commented that modern life often prevents the whole family from sitting round the dinner table, but even just Sunday lunch round the table can help improve the diets of families. Since dietary habits are established in childhood, the importance of promoting the family meal needs to be more prominent in public health campaigns. Future work could be aimed at improving parental intake or encouraging parents to cut up or buy snack-sized fruit and vegetables.
It is estimated that one in ten children in the UK aged 2–10 is obese. In the last four years the Department of Health has spent over £3.3 million on the 5-A-Day campaign and a further £75 million on the Change4Life campaign, designed to encourage families to improve their lifestyle through diet and exercise.