Happy family meals stave off eating disorders

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Washington, Jan 9 (UNI) In an age where fast food culture rules eating habits on the one hand, while the pressure of maintaining the perfect hourglass figure mounts on the other, something that most mothers fear is their teenage daughters developing eating disorders.

The best possible way to check the complex compulsion to eat or not to eat is to encourage shared mealtimes with family, new research has suggested.

A study of more than 2500 US high school students, published today in the Archives of Pediatrics&Adolescent Medicine, claimed that girls who ate five or more meals with the family were much less likely to adopt extreme weight control behaviour such as vomiting, binge eating or using laxatives or diet pills five years later.

Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia have the highest premature death rate of any psychiatric illness, resulting in up to one in five sufferers dying within 20 years through suicide and long-term damage.

Lead researcher Dianne Neumark-Sztainer said there was a reduction in the use of unhealthy weight control techniques, compared with girls who seldom ate with their families.

Regular family meals were found to have a protective affect regardless of the girls' age, weight, socio-economic status, dieting habits or relationship with their family.

Experts believe that when adolescents felt they were not coping, they turned to something that they could control, and food was something available and accessible for them to control.

''Right from infancy, food is associated with more than just nutrition --it's comfort, it's celebration, it's bonding time, and sharing meal times puts eating in its true perspective of being about more than just our primal need for food,'' they said.

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