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16 October 2014

The Healthy Benefits of Family Meals

Keywords: teens, North America, eating behavior, family communication, food, food intake, health, parent-child relationship, parents, survey, young adults,

A study in the Journal of Pediatrics shows that family meals are of importance for the prevention of overweight and obesity. It turns out that adolescents who regularly eat together with their family have a reduced chance of being overweight later in life.  

Take aways

  • Teens who eat meals together with their family have a reduced chance of being overweight or obese once they enter adulthood. 
  • This positive effect of family meals is even stronger for African American teens than for Caucasian teens. 
  • Health practitioners must put effort in educating families on the positive influences of having family dinners when children are in their teens. 

Study information

  • The question?

    Do family meals reduce teens’ chances of being overweight later in life?

  • Who?

    2117 young adults (mean age: 25 years; 45% male; 48% were Caucasian, 19% African American, 20% Asian, 6% Hispanic, and the rest had other ethnical backgrounds; 38% had a low-income).

  • Where?

    United States, Minnesota

  • How?

    This study was based on the “Project Eating and Activity in Teens”, a study in which health-related data was collected among ethnically and socioeconomically diverse adolescents over a period of 10 years. In the first wave (1998-1999) teens answered some questions about height and weight status, and family meal frequency (i.e., how many times during the past 7 days they ate a meal together with all or most of their family living in the same house). At the third wave ten years later (2008-2009) the same people answered questions about height and weight status again. 

Facts and findings

  • At the start of the study, 44% of female and 48% of the male participants were overweight. Ten years later, 51% of these males and females were overweight (BMI between 25 and 30) and 22% were obese (BMI greater than 30).  
  • Compared to those who never had family meals during their teenage years, those who did (no matter if this was one, two, three, four, five or more times a week) reduced their chances of being overweight ten years later in young adulthood, see Figure 1. 
  • This demonstrates the possible damage of not having family meals during adolescence. 
  • Compared to white young adults, African Americans had an even higher chance of being overweight later in life when they did not have family meals when they were a teenager.