COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Families who prepare meals and eat together tend to be healthier, happier -- and thinner.
But half of all meals are now eaten away from home, and many meals that are eaten at home aren't prepared in the kitchen and enjoyed around the kitchen table -- they're take-out meals or fast food eaten in front of the TV.
To help busy families find easy, practical ways to adopt healthier habits, Ohio State University Extension's family and consumer sciences program is launching a "Back to the Kitchen" social media campaign during the month of September.
Throughout the month, 37 of OSU Extension's family and consumer sciences (FCS) educators and program staff members will post a series of tips on Facebook and Twitter.
Anyone who doesn't know an FCS professional who will be posting the messages can "Like" the FCS program's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/osuefcs or follow the hashtag #backtothekitchen on Twitter.
"Families are busy, but many parents are online at work every day, or they're on their smart phones when they're sitting at their kids' ball game or practice, or they're on their tablet when they're watching TV late at night after the kids have gone to bed," said Jamie Seger, program coordinator with FCS who's coordinating the campaign.
"If we can't get them to attend a face-to-face program or come to the Extension office to pick up a fact sheet, then we need to go where they're already at, and that's online through social media outlets. It's about going to where they already are."
The campaign is taking place during National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, and for good reason, Seger said. Research on the benefits of cooking and eating as a family is plentiful:
- According to a 2007 study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association (JADA), children who eat fewer meals with their families during kindergarten and first grade are more likely to be clinically overweight by the third grade. The importance of the "number of meals eaten as a family" eclipsed demographic factors such as the child's sex, race or family socioeconomic status.
- A 2010 study in the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, conducted by Ohio State University researchers, found that 4-year-old children who slept at least 10.5 hours a night, watched under 2 hours of TV on weekdays and ate an evening meal with the family more than five times a week were 40 percent less likely to be obese than children in other families.
- A 2011 study in JADA showed that families who ate more meals together tended to eat more fruits, vegetables, grains and calcium-rich foods.
"The 'Back to the Kitchen' message is for everybody, but it's especially important for families with small children," Seger said. "If they can develop healthy eating habits at a young age, that will hold and follow them throughout their lifetimes."
Seger hopes the campaign will help FCS professionals develop online relationships with new and old clientele alike, which could help foster more in-person programming, she said.
"Extension offers wonderful classes and programs, and there can be a lot of impact at a face-to-face session. If we can branch out and reach more people online and develop an engaging relationship with people, they'll want to come to more of our programs," Seger said.
Julie Kennel, program specialist with OSU Extension and director of the dietetic intern program with Ohio State's Department of Human Nutrition, said she hopes the campaign will also have an impact the opposite way: that anyone who has attended an Extension nutrition program will be able to use social media as a way to remain connected and engaged in meaningful discussions about healthy eating.
For more about Back to the Kitchen, see a promotional video Seger produced at http://go.osu.edu/Bk2KtchVid.