A healthy interest in research

health research blog

Two pieces of science have caught my eye this week – which must be a record – I didn’t pick up that much when I was doing my A levels (D in physics, thanks for asking) and I’d like your help in making sense of them.

The first was news that the number of children admitted to A&E departments with asthma attacks has reduced dramatically since the public smoking ban was introduced. (http://ow.ly/gZuPI) The second is research from America that shows families who linger over the dinner table together – stay slim together.

Now, I’m guessing you’re thinking, “For Goodness sake, why waste all that money on research? Surely we didn’t need a study to show those findings – it’s just plain old common sense.” But take a closer look.

The asthma figures were expected to go up because some critics worried that if people were banned from smoking at work and in pubs they would smoke more at home, which would be more harmful to their children. In fact, luckily, what happened was that rather than rebelling against the smoking ban, families embraced it and began banning cigarettes from home as well. Is that the case with you or families you know?

The dinner table findings are even more interesting. Barbara Fiese – the Chicago researcher who discovered the link between longer mealtimes and slimmer children – is not talking about long lazy Mediterranean lunches with Mama dishing up 50 shades of pasta and the children developing a healthy taste for aubergines and mushrooms by accident. Oh, no  – she’s advocating spending three more minutes at the dinner table, stretching those precious family mealtimes from an average of 17 minutes to a 20! That’s it – just three extra minutes!

She told Phyllis Picklesimer of the Agricultural Consumer and Environmental Sciences College News in Illinois, “Children whose families engaged with each other over a 20-minute meal four times a week weighed significantly less than kids who left the table after 15-17 minutes. Over time those extra minutes per meal add up and become really powerful.”

Professor Fiese’s research on family mealtimes, published in the December 2012 issue of Economics and Human Biology (http://ow.ly/gZl9D), concluded, “Families who had a child of healthy weight spent more time engaged with each other during the meal, expressed more positive communication and considered mealtimes more important and meaningful than families who had a child who was overweight or obese.”

But she feels that it works both ways – it’s not just that healthy children tended to have healthier and more sociable eating habits, but adopting those healthy habits could actually help to reduce an obese child’s weight. So can we stretch mealtimes to an acceptable 20 minutes before they stretch out of their jeans? And if so how? Sticky toffee pudding? Ribs? Moules marinieres? Ideas on a postcard – or a Tweet (@AmandaAtCandis) please (if you’re not too busy eating).

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