The study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, found that people who refrained from watching TV during family meals were at lower risk of obesity as compared to those who had the habit of watching TV regularly during mealtime. Also the number of times you are having family meals is not as crucial as how you are having those meals.
"How often you are eating family meals may not be the most important thing. It could be that what you are doing during these meals matters more," said lead author Rachel Tumin, survey and population health analyst manager at the Ohio Colleges of Medicine Government Resource Center.
"This highlights the importance of thinking critically about what is going on during those meals, and whether there might be opportunities to turn the TV off or do more of your own food preparation," said Tumin, who conducted the study as part of her PhD dissertation with senior author Sarah Anderson, associate professor of epidemiology in Ohio State's College of Public Health.
The new study suggests that the structure of family meals may be as or more important than their frequency, said Anderson.
"Obesity was as common in adults who ate family meals one or two days a week as it was in those who ate family meals every day. Regardless of family meal frequency, obesity was less common when meals were eaten with the television off and when meals were cooked at home," she said.
Tumin and Anderson's analysis found the lowest odds of obesity for those adults who engaged in both healthy practices - eating home-cooked food and doing it without a TV or video on - every time they ate a family meal.
But that doesn't mean it's an all-or-nothing proposition, said Tumin.
"Families have a lot of demands and they can feel pressured to do things 'right' all the time. This study showed potential benefits regardless of how often you eat a family meal at home. Though family-meal frequency did not emerge as a possible contributor to obesity, that doesn't mean it doesn't carry other perks for families, including social and emotional health," Tumin said.
Research in children and adolescents has found frequent family meals lead to better dietary outcomes and lower chances the children will become overweight or obese. And other studies have shown that adolescents who watch TV during family meals consume less-healthful meals.