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Monash University study offers relief for football fans wanting to skip formal family meals at Thanksgiving

November 22, 2019 GMT

MELBOURNE, Australia, Nov. 22, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- Football fanatics now have an excuse to enjoy their meals in front of TV during Thanksgiving games instead of being pulled into formal, sit-down family dinners. For decades, those meals were promoted as a one-size-fits-all solution to complex problems like childhood obesity, family breakdown and even depression.

But in a new study, Monash University researchers knocked back that old view and found that enjoying dinner time in front of the TV or in the car between activities can actually benefit families.

The research, published in the in the journal Critical Public Health, challenges the dated and potentially harmful expectations of the role of sit-down family meals. It found that families are increasingly eating meals at the kitchen bench or in front of the TV while balancing busy lifestyles.

Monash University Sociology Professor Jo Lindsay, in the Faculty of Arts, said the supposed benefits and outcomes of eating in structured family meals lacks strong scientific evidence.

“Reinforcing nostalgic versions of family life is just not realistic,” she said. “We don’t want parents feeling like a moral failure or that they are compromising their child’s health because they are eating separately, it’s just not the case.”

“Rather than promoting meals of a bygone era, this research suggests that supporting flexible and healthy eating beyond the dinner table may be a more fruitful strategy for promoting public health, and could create more peaceful and practical mealtimes,” she said.

As part of the research, primary school children in the Australian state of Victoria from 50 diverse families kept a visual diary of family food consumption, providing a unique window into how busy lifestyles impact family meal-times and create diverse eating habits.

Families interviewed by researchers revealed working long hours, long commutes, conflicting schedules, children’s sports, and parents’ commitments all impacted on evening meals, with some children eating in the car between activities.

Family meals were more likely to be reserved for special occasions, such as birthdays, and regular mealtimes were less formal and more practical.

This paper draws on data collected as part of a broader study addressing school health messages and the role of children as health advocates in school and family contexts.

Breanne McCallop

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SOURCE Monash University