Two Things About Family Meals

The list of hints and tips for parents and other caregivers who share the common goal of thwarting obesity without harming obese kids continues. As always, please bear in mind that thanks to the marvel of human diversity, not every suggestion could possibly work for everybody. But it is worthwhile to put them out there for the benefit of whatever percentage of parents they might work for.

Speaking from experience, blogger Judy M. issues a heartfelt plea to moms and dads about the necessity of standing their ground. She writes,

Don’t be a short-order cook. I remember visiting my sister and her two toddlers several years ago, and was horrified when the eldest rejected the first two dinners her mother prepared. Only at the third attempt did Catharine agree to eat her meal. Aside from learning that she could get her mom to do whatever she wanted, my niece was denied the pleasure of trying new foods.

Rejecting one or more meals is also insultingly wasteful to whoever paid for the food, an issue to which some parents are necessarily very sensitive. When economic conditions become difficult, wastefulness is a really bad habit to have cultivated.

Sure, when a child reacts against a particular food, some dramatic exaggeration might be involved. Still, it is helpful to recognize that sometimes kids just can’t help themselves. When a child experiences true revulsion to a food, it really can seem like they are tasting poison.

According to a study published in the Journal of Nutrigenetics and Nutrigenomics,

[…] children aged between two and four who were only interested in a limited variety of foods had a variation of the TAS2R38 gene. Another gene, CA6, was associated with trying to exercise control through picky eating. Both genes mark a sensitivity to bitter tastes.

The lesson here is that a lot of options are possible, and only some are likely. And, once in a while, a person has something going on that is markedly atypical.

An essential caveat

Family dinners with plenty of positive “together” time are said to be one of the pillars of homegrown obesity prevention. This is true, except when it’s not. In some families, togetherness time is the fountain of all trauma, and lasting damage is done on a daily basis. Coexisting with the “togetherness good” trope, there is also evidence that “simply sitting down at the same table at the same time isn’t enough to influence obesity.”

Obviously, no amount of how-to information will help if the home atmosphere is toxic. Scientists who observe family dinners are looking into such matters as emotional stress in the interactions, ranging from awkward silences to overt hostility.

For TIME, Alice Park reported on a group of researchers who looked specifically at conversation about food and weight issues, and at parental control issues. Compared to healthy-weight kids,

Children who were overweight or obese had family meals that included more negative emotional interactions — hostility, poor quality interactions, little communication and more controlling behavior from their parents… If parents or caregivers talked constantly throughout the meal about food, and lectured about homework or attempted to control what the children ate, the youngsters were also more likely to be heavy.

So, these are challenges to watch out for.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “7 Ways To Get Your Kids Trained Into Good Eating Habits,”, 05/18/12
Source: “Why not eating greens could be in your genes,”, 10/04/17
Source: “How Family Dynamics at the Dinner Table Affect Kids’ Weight,”, 10/13/14
Photo credit: Ryan Hyde on Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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