Monday, October 4, 2010

Translating Family Dinner Research into Action

One of the things that I aspire to do with my work on this eatdinner blog/twitter/facebook page is to help translate research on family dinner into action. The statistics on the benefits of family dinner shouldn't just be empty slogans or exhortations of guilt directed toward busy families. The personal benefits of family dinner for you and your kids are important, but from a public health perspective, the societal benefits are even greater. Less kids doing drugs and drinking, more kids doing well in school, less childhood obesity: these positive outcomes affect the whole community and the whole country.

I know from experience that the academic research community puts a lot of effort into studying problems and identifying determinants of health, but often gives short shrift to actually developing and implementing solutions.  I just read a recent literature review in the Journal of American Dietetic Association that found that only a quarter of the studies on Weight Loss Management had any mention of real-world adoption or maintenance of the weight-loss strategies studied. The authors concluded that it was unknown what popular strategies could actually work becuase real-world adoption was not effectively considered. If you are not thinking about real-world adoption, especially in an area like weight-loss, why study these strategies at all?

Many research studies that mention family dinner end with a statement like "Family dinner is important and this message should be shared with the public." Gee, thanks. Can we get a little more detail please? I think the research community should go to the next level. The identification of key elements of family dinner success and the persistent barriers to family meal times would be a good start. There is also important work to be done assessing how public information and education on family dinner should be tailored regionally or by socioeconomic or cultural group.

Perhaps it's only fair to expect community-based organizations or policymakers to take up where the researchers have left off. CASA, a national research center, has done an amazing job with their annual Family Day campaign and getting key statistics out to the media. But one day is not enough; family dinners require a concerted commitment and attention throughout the year.

The best support for family dinner at this point has been from the social community of the Internet, with blog/twitter/facebook commentators weighing in on everything from menu planning to easy weeknight recipes to parenting support. To Malcolm Gladwell, I say, don't undestimate the power of weak ties and social networks. Spreading information and collaboration can do more than you think to change the world, though it may not be as dramatic as sit-ins during the civil rights movement.

Let's use the power of this social network to collaborate and learn from each other. What ideas do you have to help families make the commitment to family dinner?

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