First of all I would like to make clear one remark that is important and that sometimes can create misunderstanding: the concept of “environment” regarding children’s health. Because I notice that, usually, environment is identified exclusively with open places, the streets, the city, a mountain and, thus, with factors that have an influence, for the better or for the worse, with the air that is generated or that we generate in these areas. In Fundació Roger Torné, we take the concept of environment in its widest sense, the “environment”, and we identify it, as many other professionals and organizations, with the environment where we are born and where we live. And with ‘this environment’, I am not only referring to streets or cities, but also to the environment we generate at schools, at home or even to the environment the fetuslives in, namely the mother’s uterus.
The environment we are living in has an influence on our health, as Dr Jordi Sunyer explains in his article “Simple measures to promote healthy children” included in “Salud Infantil y Medio Ambiente. Una relación de por vida” guide (published by Fundació Roger Torné) and this environment is responsible for the pattern that runs the frequence of appearence of diseases according to the different generations. According to Dr Sunyer, we can even identify the typical diseases during each period, which appear following different patterns in accordance with the different generations.
This is a good reason for us to tackle, also, the health concept with all the complexity of our time when, permanently, we are introducing new elements in our lives with which we interact and that, at the same time, they interact themselves with each others, transforming the habitat we, adults, are living in, but where also our children are living. I explain something so obvious because we frequently forget that children are not little adults, but their own development is placing them in a situation of vulnerability in front of certain social habits such us the tobacco smoke, sedentary, hyperactivity or the junk food.
But there are other habits less remarking that, nevertheless, have overwhelming consequences for children’s health. One of the habits is connected to the number of meals per week that we share with them and the time we devote to our children during the said meals. For me it was one of the most surprising discoveries in “Guía de Salud Infantil y Medio Ambiente. Una relación de por vida” and it shows how the families are essential in order to plant the seeds for a healthy life.
The Center of Addictions and Substances Abuse (CASA) belonging to the University of Columbia has made during the last 17 years thousands of interviews to American teenagers and their families with the purpose of identifying the factors that have an influence on the increase or decrease of addictive substances during the teen years. They publish the results of their researches each year and the conclusions have had such persistence, that it has led them to celebrate the fourth Monday in each September as The Family’s Day, in order to promote the habit of carrying out meals in family among American society and to raise parents awareness on its importance. Eating with our kids is one of the sources to prevent addictions during adolescence. You are reading right.
The conclusions of the study undertaken during 2011 do no admit doubts about it: the children, who do not eat with their families three times a week minimum, are, in comparison with those ones who do it every day or they do it at least five times per week:
- Four times more keen to smoking.
- Their tendency to drinking alcohol is twice as much.
- They are 2,5 times more keen to smoking marijuana.
- Four times more keen to state that they will try drugs in future.
But the benefits of eating with the family are not only linked to the tendency to addictive substances; the studies also prove that, besides, they have an incidence on improving self-esteem and in getting a larger satisfaction with our own body, both of them so necessary during adolescence.
Achieving that children find time to share their dairy experiences with their parents, during dinner for example, is, apart from all the mentioned above, an effective way to prevent alimentary disorders during adolescence, as states another study undertaken in the University of Minnesota, the EAT (Eating Among Teens) project remarks among its conclusions the existent link between meals in family and the prevention of alimentary disorders during adolescence and advices that, despite the diversity of behavior patterns in the families, it is good to have meals together since it is clearly beneficial for teenagers.
There are additional data; another study undertaken by the Epidemiologic Division of the Ohio State University College of Public Health, Columbus, Ohio, together with the Departments of Public Health and Pediatrics, Center for Obesity Research and Education, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania establishes that meals in family, together with enough sleeping and the control of time they spend watching TV is an efficient method to fight against children’s obesity, precisely one of the curses that we suffer currently.
As you can see, the diversity of factors that have an incidence on children’s health is enormous but they also prove the preponderant role that parents have when having an influence on it starting in the establishment of habits, some of them so simple as this one, having at least 5 meals in family during the week.
We have not found any study informing on how sharing lunches or dinners with our kids has an incidence on adults’ health but I think that their health also experiences a positive influence. But, as I am telling you, there is no research on it, so it is just common sense which teaches us that.