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Healthy Living Tip: Greening Dinner Reduces Obesity

Eating organic foods and eating lots of fruits and vegetables is good for healthy living, here's another tip to improve health and reduce obesity.

We all know that eating organic foods and eating lots of fruits and vegetables is a healthy living tip, but research is proving that sitting down to dinner for more at least 20 minutes is one of the secrets to improving health and reducing obesity.

Jerica Berge might be called a guru of healthy eating. A feature about one of the most recent studies in which she participated was just published in The Journal of Pediatrics.

Entitled, A Family Meal a Day May Keep Obesity Away, the report says that sitting at the table for at least 20 minutes matters more than what one eats and what one is doing while sitting at the table (watching TV or fiddling with electronic devices).

This study really resonated with me. We are all busy, are addicted to our mechanical devices and seldom spend time eating together.

When I was a child, dinner was the thing. Every evening, we set the table, prepared the food, sat down together, said grace (a prayer before eating) and often sat at the table for an hour, even as children, conversing and sharing our days. As children, we did not always have something significant to contribute, so our father asked us to come to the table nightly with a new word and tell him what it meant and how to use it in a sentence. 

We were definitely middle-class, with a stay-at-home mother. There were four children, all of whom have college degrees and three of whom have masters. We all married and became dual income households, so we were busy in different ways, but still took time for dinner.

I married a person of a different faith so no longer said grace out loud at dinner. My own child had health difficulties that prompted me to become an early follower of health guru Adelle Davis, a member of an early organic food coop, a gardener (our entire home landscape was edible), a canner of home goods and a baker of all of our bread and baked goods (because at the time health food was expensive and hard to find).

My brothers had been vegetable adverse, so I presented vegetables as science to my own daughter. Each week, she would pick some vegetable -- any vegetable that appealed to her. We would look up a recipe that sounded good and make it together.

We always went small the first time we prepared a new food -- maybe half the recipe. Then we would try it. If we disliked it, we’d try something else next time. No pressure, no acrimony over what we were or were not eating. We might tweak the recipe -- plan to add or subtract something -- to make it our own.

In the process, some of my daughter’s favorite foods became Adele Davis pops (frozen juice in the can mixed with yogurt and maybe a flavoring like vanilla or mint and then frozen in reusable popsicle molds); parsley-carrot bread; prune-nut bread; artichokes, and eggplant, onion and other vegetables grilled in olive oil used to top seven-grain pasta. She was none too keen on chicken

Here is a recipe for the yogurt pops from Iowa Source.com

Yogurt Popsicles

Based on Adelle Davis’s recipe, this is Karen Valentine’s 30-year standby for her five kids and all the neighbor kids, too.

1 small can undiluted frozen orange juice concentrate—thawed

1 pint to 1 quart plain yogurt—according to taste

1 tsp. vanilla

1. Blend until smooth and freeze in individual servings—small paper cups with a popsicle stick stuck in the middle works best.

Variations: Other juices may be used, and chopped fruit may be added.

Every evening we did sit down to dinner.

Because I was concerned about weight, I was an early adopter of serving dinner on salad-size rather than dinner-size plates. Because I worried about the environment (and this was decades ago), we used cloth napkins instead of paper ones.

pyramid napkin design

Because I had put myself through school working in restaurants, I taught my daughter how to fold those napkins into pretty designs

My own parents did not have wide food tastes. My father does not like eggplant and won’t eat it, even though he raised us, “To eat what is served without comment.”

I remember taking my parents to a fancy restaurant for my mother’s birthday. My then elementary-school-age daughter ordered leek soup and an artichoke for her dinner. My mother looked at me in horror and asked, “Will she eat that?” “Watch,” I said. She did.

Because of my own upbringing, we each took turns telling the story of the day. My daughter brought a new word she did not already know and used it in a sentence.

These days I get together for meals with friends. We pocket our electronic devices, though I have been known to invite friends to dine over a television program. When we are talking about something and cannot remember the details, we will use a tablet or smartphone to look it up. So the devices become an adjunct to discussion not a replacement for it.

Indeed, the just-published study said that our electronic devices were not impediments to the sitting at the dinner table reduces obesity effect. It did not even matter much what study participants ate when they were together. The key element the study said was sitting in a happy (not angry) dinner-table environment for at least 20 minutes -- and if we can not take the time to eat together every day, we are not to despair. The study reported that a few times a week was enough to generate the positive effect.

Here is how the University of Minnesota describes Berge:

"Jerica Berge, PhD, MPH, is a clinical research faculty member and a behavioral medicine provider in the University of Minnesota Department of Family Medicine and Community Health.

Family Fortress is the umbrella name of Berge's research. Her research aims to leverage family relationships in the prevention and treatment of childhood and adolescent obesity. By relying on the strength of relationships within the family, families and communities can combat childhood and adolescent obesity."

Here is how the The Journal of Pediatrics' article begins:

"Jerica M. Berge, PhD, MPH, LMFT, CFLE, and colleagues from the University of Minnesota and Columbia University used data from a 10-year longitudinal study (2,287 subjects), Project EAT (Eating and Activity among Teens), to examine weight-related variables (e.g., dietary intake, physical activity, weight control behaviors) among adolescents. Questions were asked to assess family meal frequency and body mass index. According to Dr. Berge, “It is important to identify modifiable factors in the home environment, such as family meals, that can protect against overweight/obesity through the transition to adulthood.”

Fifty-one percent of the subjects were overweight and 22% were obese. Among adolescents who reported that they never ate family meals together, 60% were overweight and 29% were obese at the 10-year follow-up. Overall, all levels of baseline family meal frequency, even having as few as 1-2 family meals a week during adolescence, were significantly associated with reduced odds of overweight or obesity at the 10-year follow-up compared with those reporting never having had family meals during adolescence. Results also showed a stronger protective effect of family meal frequency on obesity among black young adults compared with white young adults. However, the limited significant interactions overall by race/ethnicity suggest that the protective influence of family meals for adolescents spans all races/ethnicities.

Family meals may be protective against obesity or overweight because coming together for meals may provide opportunities for emotional connections among family members, the food is more likely to be healthful, and adolescents may be exposed to parental modeling of healthful eating behaviors. As noted by Dr. Berge, “Informing parents that even having 1 or 2 family meals per week may protect their child from overweight or obesity in young adulthood would be important.” Using this information, public health and health care professionals who work with adolescents can give parents another tool in the fight against obesity."

And here is a video that will make you laugh or cry depending on your experience or opinion of holiday life in the 1950s.