Eating is a social event—or, at least, it used to be.
According to a recent survey by the Hartman Group, nearly half of adults’ meals are eaten in front of the computer, in the car, on the go—or, in other words, alone. The researchers of another study claimed the average American family spends 40 percent of their budget eating out, which usually means not together.
Roughly one-third of American children between the ages of two and eleven and 41 percent of adolescents eat fast food on any given day, say University of Illinois-Chicago researchers. Not surprisingly, they found that when children and adolescents eat at fast food joints, they consume more sugar, calories, and fats.
In light of the growing body of evidence showing that eating alone or on the run increases the risk of obesity and poor nutrition, especially among children, it seems a renaissance of the family meal is in order.
Slow Food lauds the social benefits of social eating—the conviviality that pours from the stories, food, and friendship shared—but what does science say about the health benefits? Studies on exactly this matter—and primarily focused on children—have peppered the media over the past few years. The following are just a few samples:
- Family meals may lay the groundwork for healthier eating in adulthood said one study by the University of Minnesota. Looking at family meals during adolescence, these researchers found that more frequent family meals lead to more nutritious diets as adults, including higher consumption of fruits and vegetables, fewer soft drinks, and more vitamins and nutrients.
- Rutgers researchers evaluated 68 studies on the health benefits of family meals for children and concluded that more family meals means children tend to eat more fruits, veggies, fiber, calcium-rich foods and vitamins, and less bad-for-you foods. They also found that frequent family meals tended to correlate with lower body mass index (BMI); although, the link between family meals and obesity risk was weak.
- London researchers showed that family meals boost consumption of fruits and veggies among kids.
- Family meals during the teenage years can ward off obesity, eating disorders, and inadequate nutrition, according to University of Illinois researchers.
Science also says that eating habits rub off on people. One study demonstrated that social norms predict whether people will choose fast food and soft drinks or fruit and vegetables. Another study shows that adolescents look to their peers when it came to assessing how much food is appropriate to eat.
In other words, eating well together more frequently could reinforce good individual eating habits and, thus, help people lead healthier and, perhaps, happier lives.