If a family meets a couple of times a week at the dinner table, teenagers have the opportunity to engage in small talk with their parents.

Family meals can have a positive effect on the nutritional habits of youngsters, according to a study of 180,000 young people conducted by the University of Illinois.

Evaluating the study, German paediatricians said that adolescents who ate with their parents at least three times a week were on average 12 per cent less likely to suffer from being overweight or obese than those who did not join family meals.

“Even if it doesn’t look that way, many young people still want contact with their parents,” said Uwe Buesching, a spokesman for the German paediatricians’ association.

“If the family meets a couple of times a week at the dinner table, teenagers have the opportunity to engage in small talk with their parents.” He added that adults need to avoid dominating the conversation with their own concerns.

Enjoying family meals together tends to decline during adolescence as a result of overloaded agendas, schoolwork, extra-curricular activities and voluntary work.

“Nevertheless, fathers and mothers should try to organise as many meetings as possible, at least three to five times a week,” Buesching said.

“One aspect of eating together is, for example, the opportunity to recognise a disrupted eating pattern in young people before a real eating disorder becomes established,” he added.

According to the study, youngsters that ate at the family dinner table at least five times a week exhibited 35 per cent fewer eating disorders than children who ate alone.

The researchers counted among eating disorders uncontrolled gorging, induced vomiting and taking diet pills, all of which are aimed at causing weight loss. Fasting, radically reduced eating, missing meals and smoking to lose weight were also seen as unhealthy or even pathological eating habits.

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