The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says one to four percent of all young women in the United States are affected by eating disorders such as anorexia, and an estimated 17 percent of children and adolescents are overweight or obese. A recent study suggests families can take one simple step to help their children fight those trends. VOA's Alex Villarreal reports.

The University of Minnesota study found that regular family meals can keep teenage girls from developing behaviors linked to eating disorders.

Researchers say girls who eat with their families most days of the week are 29 percent less likely to exhibit extreme behaviors, such as binge eating or vomiting.

Dr. Tania Heller heads the Washington Center for Eating Disorders and Adolescent Obesity. She says family mealtime can be critical.

"Family meals can allow parents to have more face-to-face time with their kids and with their teenagers," says Heller. "And this can potentially improve communication, improve family relationships and let parents pick up on disordered eating and eating problems at an early stage."

For Celia Kibler, it is never too early to start. Kibler founded Funfit, a health club for children.  Kibler says Funfit teaches families how to stay healthy through good eating and exercise. "Bad habits can start very early," she explains. "Obviously, as parents, when a child is young, in the toddler age range, you are their greatest role model. So if a parent does not start teaching a child good eating habits and good fitness habits, they're not going to learn them."

Eight-year-old Emily Harrington came to Funfit after her doctor-expressed concern about her weight.  Even she recognizes the importance of family activities to stay healthy. "My family can help me be healthier by start[ing] walking ... because two days ago, we went to Redland Park, and I told my mom, 'Ok, let's do one more time.' And then I said, 'Just one more time!'  And it was fun," said Emily.

Kibler advises parents to make sure healthy living is fun for their children. She says the best way to do that is together.