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Sitting down for a family meal may promote healthier eating

The family that eats together stays healthy together, according to a new study.

Even just sitting down for a meal once or twice a week as a family can increase a child's fruit and vegetable intake close to the recommended five servings a day.

"Even if it's just one family meal a week, when children eat together with parents or older siblings they learn about eating. Watching the way their parents or siblings eat and the different types of food they eat is pivotal in creating their own food habits and preferences," Janet Cade, a professor of nutritional epidemiology and public health at the University of Leed's School of Food Science and Nutrition, said in a press release. Cade supervised the study.

Researchers studied 2,389 children at 52 primary schools in London. Diets were recorded in a a home food diary compiled by parents and a school food diary written by fieldworkers over one 24-hour period. Parents were also asked how many times they ate together at a table as a family and if they cut up fruits and vegitables for their kids to eat.

Out of the subjects, 656 families said they ate together alawys, 768 sometimes did and 92 families never did.

The study found that 63 percent of the children did not eat the World Health Organization recommended daily serving of fruits and vegetables.

However, the children who always ate a family meal together ate 4.4 ounces (about 1.5 servings) more fruit and vegetables than those who never ate with their families. Those who ate one or two meals together with their family ate 3.4 ounces (1.2 servings) more than those who never ate together.

Families who reported giving their children fruit and vegetables every day ate one portion more than those whose families didn't serve the healthy items. And, children whose parents always cut up fruit and vegetables ate half a portion more than kids of parents who never did so.

"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," study author Meaghan Christian, a research fellow at the University of Leeds, said in a press release.

The study appeared in the Journal of Epidemiology and Public Health on Dec. 19.

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