Families who do not have dinner around the table run their risk of children getting fat, the country’s “nanny in chief” has warned.
Prof Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer, urged parents to have family meals together in order to ensure slimmer waistlines and boost brainpower.
She said children were more likely to develop weight problems if they were allowed to indulge in “mindless” eating in front of TV and computer screens.
And she suggested that conversations around the dinner table were also crucial for children’s intellectual development.
It follows a series of studies linking high levels of screen time to a greater risk of obesity.
Research suggests that such diversions dull satiety levels – leaving to “passive overconsumption” of meals and snacks.
Dame Sally told a debate in London: “When people are using screens or watching the television that their calorie intake goes up … because if you don’t concentrate on the food, the social interaction is fairly mindless and the feeling of satiation is not recognised as easily.”
“We would like people to sit down and eat together and actually if you look at child development they need to interact with their families – with adults – and mealtimes are a very important part of that.
“Proper meal times with healthy food are going to help our children develop effectively and probably help our waistlines,” she said.
Others at the event, hosted by think tank Reform, suggested Britain should attempt to emulate France, in its eating habits.
Hugo Fry, managing director of pharmaceutical giant Sanofi said: “One of the reasons that drives the UK up the obesity charts is the way we eat – the environment we do it in.
“We are massive TV eaters, grab-and-go eaters,” he said. “At the other end of the chart the French … sit down as a family at every single meal – breakfast lunch and dinner,” he said.