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The upside of a pandemic

The upside of a pandemic

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These are challenging and dispiriting times. Given all the trials we have been facing with this pandemic, how could there possibly be an upside? Take heart – there are a few silver linings we can hang onto.

Community bonding, creative connection, and less teen angst - Loneliness can be a serious threat to health. Sheltering at home can make people feel isolated, even with family members around. Social scientists worried about the effect this isolation might have on a country where loneliness is already a problem. Several new studies suggest that the expected huge increase in loneliness from the pandemic hasn't come to pass — not so far, anyway. Turns out we are a resilient and resourceful bunch.

The pandemic, reports one of the studies’ authors, caused a “…real outpouring of communities really trying to band together and look out for neighbors and for those who might be most vulnerable.”

People have found new ways to connect, as well, visiting over fences or 6 feet apart in driveways, or through multiple social media platforms. Researchers also found no appreciable increase in teen stress, because, they suspect, there’s no “fear of missing out” (who's going out to the party, who's going out to events), a common teen angst. As one put it, "… when everybody's at home, there's nothing to miss out on."

Increased physical activity and family meals. Another silver lining has been the uptick in healthy physical activity like walking, biking, gardening and outdoor play. But perhaps one of the best silver linings is the increase in family meals. With sheltering at home, family members are sitting down to a meal with one another more often. Study after study shows scientific proof of the positive, lifelong benefits of family meals on both kids and adults. Family meals, say researchers, “nourish the spirit, brain and health of all family members.”

What’s the big deal about families eating together? Plenty. According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, children who eat at home more regularly with their families:

• are less likely to suffer from obesity;

• are less likely to develop disordered eating behaviors;

• have a healthier diet with greater intake of fruits and vegetables – even more, kids who cook with their parents are more likely to eat and enjoy healthier food;

• are more likely to do better in school;

• have a closer relationship with parents and siblings;

• are more likely to exhibit prosocial behavior as adults, such as sharing, fairness and respect;

• have more self-esteem and are more likely to resist negative peer pressure;

• are more likely to delay sexual activity; and

• are less likely to try drugs or alcohol at an earlier age.

In fact, with every additional family meal shared each week, adolescents are less likely to show symptoms of violence, depression and suicide, less likely to use or abuse drugs or run away, and less likely to engage in risky behavior or delinquent acts. On the flip side, according to a major study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health on the relationship between certain family characteristics and adolescent problem behaviors, teens who have infrequent family dinners (fewer than three per week) are more likely to have abused prescription drugs or used illegal drugs, marijuana, tobacco and alcohol.

Family meals help build family relationships where kids are more likely to share their joys and struggles. Research also says that besides eating together, kids who participate in preparing family meals gain a sense of accomplishment and self-confidence. You can also continue to support your favorite restaurants and the local economy with takeout, or enjoy dining at restaurants that have outdoor seating. Just do it together – it can be the upside to a pandemic.

 

Partnership for a Healthy Lincoln (HealthyLincoln.org) and LNKTV Health (LNKTVhealth.lincoln.ne.gov) bring you Health and the City, a monthly column that examines relevant community health issues and spotlights the local organizations that impact community wellness. Direct questions or comments to jpearsonanderson@healthylincoln.org.

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