Research shows that regular family meal times really are good for us and can reduce obesity in young people.

We all know regular family meal times are good for us…that’s if and when we can muster up the organisation to throw a few placemats on the table, hope our cutlery has landed in the right order, drag our kids to their seats free of Nintendo DSs and iphones, remove our meal from the oven in fine fashion – fingers-crossed it’s not burnt or spilling over the side – throw off our apron and plonk ourselves in place, hopefully to big smiles from the panel of hungry hippos anticipating a good feed.

There may be a greater motivator to all the meal-time madness than we initially thought, too.Research shows that regular family meal times can decrease an adolescent’s chance of being overweight or obese and improve a child’s nutritional health and wellbeing.

The findings, released by the University of Illinois in the US, support the call by Diabetes Queensland for families to help each other toward healthy lifestyles by ensuring nutritious diets, helping every member maintain a healthy weight and engaging in regular exercise together.

These commitments can help prevent chronic diseases later in life such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.

I believe, as parents, we have a great opportunity to help our kids learn how to eat well and live right, and take the time to do the same for ourselves. The statistics for our state reflect how busy we are and how health can sometimes slip as a priority for us – only 8 per cent of Queensland adults meet or exceed the recommended daily intake of fruits and vegetables and 60 per cent of us aren’t getting enough exercise.

The statistics about childhood obesity are quite frightening too. One in four kids is currently overweight or obese. But it’s so encouraging that we can do our part in the fight against these figures simply by sitting around the table together regularly over a good meal.

Specifically, the University of Illinois study found adolescents who ate with their family three times or more each week were 12 per cent less likely to suffer from being overweight or obese. Children who participated in at least five family meals were 25 per cent less likely to develop nutritional health issues and had better eating patterns, including a higher intake of fruits and vegetables.

Presently, Diabetes Queensland, Heart Foundation, Cancer Council Queensland and Nutrition Australia Queensland are combining forces to see children and adults across the state become “Swappers” and lose their belly, without losing out on the things they love, by committing to small swaps daily.

A small swap may be just the start you need towards a healthier life. Whether it’s swapping driving the kids to school for walking them to school, swapping high sugar, low fibre breakfast cereals for high grain and high fibre options, or swapping a Sunday drive for a Sunday bike ride, there are plenty of family swap ideas available (see www.swapit.gov.au).

And remember – amidst the flying spaghetti, broccoli left untouched on dinner plates and the full sink of dirty dishes that awaits, take a breath, hold your head high and remember that family meal time chaos has long-term health benefits for all!