Sydney Morning Herald January 9, 2008
MEALS at the family dinner table could be the key to preventing a generation of teenage girls from developing eating disorders. New research shows girls who regularly have family meals are much less likely to adopt extreme weight control behaviours such as vomiting, binge eating and using laxatives or diet pills. A study surveying more than 2500 American high school students found that girls who ate five or more family meals a week had a much healthier relationship with food in later life. The research, published in international journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, polled students aged 13 to 17 in 1999 who were followed up five years later. Regular family meals were found to have a protective effect regardless of the girls’ age, weight, socio-economic status, dieting habits or relationship with her family.
Experts say doctors should encourage families to have dinner at the table instead of on the couch in front of the television to protect against serious eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. Belinda Dalton, director of eating disorders clinic The Oak House, said eating with family helped “normalise” young people’s relationship with food. “When adolescents are feeling that they’re not coping they turn to something that they can control and food is something available and accessible for them to control. Clearly, if they’re sitting with their family on a regular basis then their family can be more in control of their eating,” Ms Dalton said. “It’s about families and young people feeling connected within their family and that builds self-esteem and sense of worth and that works very actively against someone developing an eating disorder.”