Mealtime Matters

The quality of family interactions during mealtime may affect health of children with asthma

(RxWiki News) Researchers have identified a link between the health of children with asthma and the quality of family interactions at mealtime.

Past studies have reported the health benefits for children and teens who ate with their families on a regular basis. Instead of analyzing the frequency of eating with family, this new study analyzed how the quality of social interaction during mealtime affected children's health.

For this study, researchers from the University of Illinois, the University of Rochester Medical Center, and the Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse observed 200 families with children from 5 to 12 years of age who had persistent asthma, a form of asthma that requires more frequent care and regular routines compared to other types of asthma.

The researchers found the quality of family interactions during mealtime was directly related to the health of the asthmatic child, including lung function, symptoms of asthma, and the degree to which asthma interfered with a child's daily life. More specifically, families that spent mealtimes talking about the day's events, showing a sincere interest in each other's activities, and without the distractions of electronics had children with better health.

Conversely, the researchers found that families with more disruptions during mealtime - such as from cell phones or TV - were more likely to have asthmatic children with poorer health. Such findings support other studies, which have shown that watching television, or time spent in front of any screen, contributes to a variety of health risks.

According to Barbara H. Fiese, professor of human and community development and director of the Family Resiliency Center at the University of Illinois, and leader of the study, mealtimes are a regular event for many families with young children. As such, they provide an easy and accessible opportunity to improve the health of children with asthma.

Asthma is a chronic disease that affects nearly 7 million children in the United States. The disease is causes airways to become sore or swollen, making it difficult to breath.

The study by Fiese and colleagues is published in the January/February issue of Child Development.

Review Date: 
February 7, 2011