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Family Meeting Equals Easy Breathing

Univ. of Illinois Researchers Say Family Mealtimes Help Treat Kids’ Asthma

The emotional benefits of family mealtime are well established. But there are physical benefits to family mealtime as well.

I really admire parents who make family dinnertime a priority, where everyone sits around the table at once, enjoys their meal and discusses their day.  Family is more important than anything (even health!) and one of the best ways to foster a familial relationship is by eating together whenever possible.  Family dynamics can make this a challenge (i.e. kids’ after-school activities, sibling rivalries, long work hours, etc.) but the long-term benefits to your kids’ and your own life makes the effort worthwhile.

But when I think of family meals, I don’t think of them as being a treatment for a medical malady.  A treatment for emotional well-being?  Sure.  But for physical problems?  Uh-uh.

Don’t tell that to University of Illinois researchers, though.  Because after observing children with asthma, researchers discovered a relationship between the severity of kids’ asthma symptoms and how intimate their family was.

Of course there are many ways to assess how close a family is, but for the purposes of this study, researchers used family mealtime.

For six weeks, 63 families with at least one son or daughter with asthma were observed via camcorder.  In addition to these observations, researchers collected questionnaires that the boys and girls (between the ages of 9 and 12) completed regarding their mental and physical health.  Portions of the questionnaire gauged the extent to which the kids suffered from separation anxiety, as anxiety tends to exacerbate asthma-related symptoms.

After six weeks of observation and review of the pertinent data, researchers found an inverse relationship between the severity of kids’ asthma and how close the families were.  The more involved the kids were in family conversation and taking on different roles (e.g. setting the table, clearing off the table, getting drinks, etc.) the less severe their symptoms tended to be.

But it wasn’t the family dinnertime activity itself that seemed to affect’ asthma symptoms.  It was the quality of those family dinnertimes.  For instance, some families did very little conversing throughout dinner.  And for them, by and large, kids symptoms were worse.  In addition, these kids were more likely to answer questions indicative of separation anxiety.

While the quality of family meal times was a factor in asthma’s severity, the quantity of those family meal times was important as well.  Not the quantity of food being eaten, but rather how consistently the family ate dinner together.

According to Dr. Barbara H. Fiese, a professor of human and community development at the University of Illinois, having family meals on a consistent basis “allows children to build up expectations about how their parents and siblings will react from day to day.  As a result, kids develop a sense of security.”  And a sense of security is precisely the thing a boy or girl needs to overcome separation anxiety.

The study is published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

Asthma is a breathing disorder that often presents itself in childhood.  It’s characterized by wheezing, tightness in the chest, coughing, and shortness of breath.  The disease itself is mysterious because there’s no known cure for it, yet asthma-related complications can disappear on their own over time.  Still, approximately 20 million people in the United States have asthma at any given time, about half of them under the age of 10.

If you have a son or daughter with asthma but don’t eat together regularly, you now have a reason to start eating together regularly.  Understand that it may be difficult to establish a consistent family mealtime due to the aforementioned reasons, but I’m confident you’ll be pleased with the camaraderie that it engenders over time.

And hey, it may be just what your son or daughter needs to kick asthma to the curb for good.

Sources:
health.google.com
sciencedaily.com

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