For years, health advocates, researchers and nutritionists have been telling us that economic instability and poverty negatively impacts our health, especially for African-Americans who disproportionately suffer from poverty, lack of access to healthy and quality food in their neighborhoods and have a range of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancers. Findings from a new study provide more proof to those claims.
Researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln found that almost 70 percent of the low income families in their study were not getting enough of several vital nutrients, including vitamins A and C, protein, calcium and iron. They also found that most of these families didn't eat meals together on a regular basis.
Now, a majority of the families did eat dinner together at least five times each week, but breakfast and lunch were eaten together four times a week at the most. And roughly 43 percent of these families ate breakfast and lunch together just two or fewer times per week.
Now not eating lunch together makes sense—your kids are off at school and you are at work. But researchers believe that the lack of family mealtime had a lot of do with why people were nutritionally deficient. They believe that breakfast—the first meal of the day—might help tackle the problem.
"Nutrients we get from these food groups—such as calcium, folate, potassium, vitamin C and vitamin A—are critical in the diets of young children and are often lacking in the diet of limited-income children," study author Wanda Koszewski, University of Nebraska-Lincoln extension associate professor of nutrition and health sciences, said in a university news release. "Due to the fast-paced lifestyle of many families, not having breakfast together makes it difficult to meet these nutrients later in the day."
They also believe that by increasing the frequency of family breakfasts, families would be more likely to eat essential foods from the milk group, fruits and fruit juices, the authors claimed. The findings could help food and nutrition professionals counsel families on how they could alter their eating patterns and improve their nutrition.
Now there are plenty of benefits of eating together as a family: It's a good way to teach children the value of what is good and nutritious food; it can teach children about portion control; save the family money; improve communication; and it can also encourage kids to make healthier choices when parents are not around. And eating breakfast is also important, like the researchers said. Having that morning meal can put you in a better mood, give you energy, help you concentrate, help control your weight and make it easier to meet the recommended daily nutritional requirements.
But improving health and eradicating these deficiencies can only happen if the adults have an understanding of what healthy is, have access to healthy food and are preparing mostly nutritious meals. Because let's face it, which is better? Sitting around the table eating a sugar-filled Pop Tart with a glass of Kool-Aid for breakfast as a family or sending kids who are enrolled in a healthy meal programs at school to have a breakfast with fruit, whole grains and low-fat milk?
The key to better health for African-American really needs to be grounded in having professionals teaching parents what healthy is and having a system where healthy food is affordable and accessible to everyone.
Read tips on how to build a better breakfast for you and your family here.