A new University of Illinois study revealed that distracted dining may be as dangerous to your health as distracted driving is to your safety on the highway.
To test the effects of mealtime distraction, researchers videotaped 60 families during mealtime in the university’s Family Resiliency Center (FRC), or family research home. Half the families were subjected to the sounds of a loud vacuum cleaner in an adjacent room for 15 minutes while they were eating (participants were told on arrival that a popcorn spill had happened at an earlier event and janitors were late in arriving). The other half experienced no distraction.
Participants' BMI was measured along with food consumption, action, behavior, mealtime communication and critical communication during the meal.
The effects of the distraction were more marked for parents than for children. Distracted parents ate more cookies and chose more diet beverages over sugary drinks than the quiet group, but they also ate more carrots. Parents and children ate the expected amount of pizza.
The noise did have a big effect on communication. Adults got up and down from the table a lot more and made fewer positive comments. They paid less attention to their children's concerns in conversation. (It is known that kind of conversation is associated with a healthier weight in children.)
Why is this important? When parents are distracted, they're probably not monitoring what their kids are eating and they're probably not demonstrating positive interest in the children, the researchers said.
"If you're getting up and down because you're distracted during a meal, you're probably not able to pay attention to the kids' emotions or to model good responses to your hunger cues -- noticing when you're full and not continuing to eat".
The beneficial effects of regular family mealtimes are many and well known. With home cooked meals, kids tend to eat more fruits and vegetables and fewer unhealthy foods. Family meals also help facilitate discussions about healthy food choices at and away from home.
Studies also show that the more often families eat together, the less likely kids are to smoke, drink, do drugs, develop eating disorders and, and the more likely they are to excel academically.
This study shows that it's not enough to encourage families to eat together regularly without identifying other factors that promote health. Distractions and disruptions may be part of a family environment that is habitually chaotic and unstructured. Studies show that children raised in chaotic family environments are at increased risk for becoming overweight or obese.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.