Want to do something to help reduce the risk of obesity for your children? Try eating dinner with them. And no, it doesn't have to be a fancy vegetarian meal that you slaved over for hours — although that wouldn't hurt. A new study has found that any meal, when shared together as a family, can help protect kids from future weight problems.

The study, which appeared in the Journal of Pediatrics, looked at the the eating habits of 2,287 girls and boys in their teenage years, and then followed up with these kids 10 years later. Researchers found that teenagers who ate dinner with their families three to four times a week were 50 percent less likely to be obese as young adults than their peers who did not eat family dinners on a weekly basis. Even one to two nights of family dinners per week had a protective effect on kids, reducing the participant's future risk for obesity by 33 percent.

“Parents have all these messages coming at them about what to do to prevent adolescent obesity,” said the lead author, Jerica M. Berge, an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Minnesota. “Here we’re providing a concrete thing parents can focus on. If you invest in one or two meals a week, it can make a difference.”

Researchers were not sure why there was a link between family meals and reduced obesity, but they are hoping that future studies can focus on the quality of family meals — the interpersonal relationships, level of distractions, and supportive atmosphere — to piece out the correlation and give families more information about how they can help protect their kids' health.

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