Eat Together, Breathe Better

One of the best prescriptions for children with asthma might be family meals.


Scientific research tells us that family meals can offer more than just bonding and comedy. It can increase the amount of fruits and vegetables kids eat, improve performance in school, and decrease their risk of eating disorders and alcohol and drug abuse.

Research published in the journal Thorax, part of the BMJ group, showed that eating fruit appeared to protect young people from asthma and allergies. Eating three or more portions a week reduced the severity of the symptoms by 11% among teenagers and 14% among younger children. This research came out of a large collaborative project called the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC), which involves nearly 2 million children in more than 100 countries, making it the biggest of its kind.

The bottom line from this research is that it’s not just eating together as a family that makes a difference but also how the family acts at the dinner table.  Here’s what the new research tells us about how to get the most out of family meals:

1. Stay focused on each other

Avoid the temptation to answer the phone, turn on the TV, or text at the dinner table.  In the study, children reported better control of their asthma when their families stayed focused on the meal and on each other rather than focusing on other distractions. Family meals provide a great opportunity to check in with children with health conditions to see how they are feeling and whether they took their medicine that day.  When viewed this way, the idea that family meals might help to improve a medical condition starts to make sense.

2. Keep the conversation positive

Children with asthma were more likely to take their medicine, have fewer asthma symptoms, and report higher quality of life when conversations at the dinner table were positive versus critical or negative.  Focus your time together on asking about each other’s day, joking around, and enjoying each other’s company – this is not the time to be critical.

3. Don’t worry about making the meal fancy or long

The average family meal lasted only 18 minutes.  What this means is that family meals can be casual and short while still providing great benefits to the family.

It looks like family meals are good for a lot more than creating great memories.  They create healthy children as well.

[Updated April 8, 2020]

-Tia Bastian, Research Associate, Blue Zones

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