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Teens who eat with family are healthier: study

Teens who eat dinner alone tend to have a higher body mass index (BMI) than teens who eat with at least one family member, according to new Canadian research presented at the Canadian Cardiovascular Conference in Toronto.

Eating a meal with just 1 relative can improve blood pressure, cholesterol and BMI

Teens who regularly eat with at least one other person show improved heart health compared to teens who mostly eat alone, according to a new Canadian study.

Teens aged 14 and 15 who eat dinner alone tend to have a higher body mass index than those who eat with at least one family member, suggests new Canadian research presented Monday at the Canadian Cardiovascular Conference in Toronto. 

Researchers followed 14,280 Grade 9 students in Ontario over four years from 2009-13. They tracked who had dinner with another person during the week and who ate alone.

The study's lead author, Dr. Michael Khoury of the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, said teens who ate with at least one family member six to seven times per week had a lower BMI (by about four percentage points) than kids their age who mostly ate alone. BMI measures the relationship between height and weight and is an indicator for obesity, he said.

"We wanted to look at the relationship between how frequently teens eat alone at home versus together with at least one family member … and their overall heart health," said Khoury.

Blood pressure and cholesterol were also better among teens who ate with at least one person several times a week, said Khoury.

The study shows parents they should prioritize eating with their teenage kids, he said.

"With each additional day that the kids sat down together with their family members, there was an improvement with their heart health," Khoury said.

To have a measurable impact a teen's heart health, mealtime doesn't have to include everyone in the household, said Khoury. Just one person makes the difference.

There are several reasons why teens who eat with a family member might be healthier. The food is more likely to be of better quality and meals tend to more balanced, he said.

Spending time with family can increase well-being and create structure for teens, Khoury also said.

The researchers didn't look at socioeconomic factors.

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