Regular family meals result in better eating habits for adolescents, a new study has suggested.
During the study, researchers at the School of Public Health, University of Minnesota found that adolescents who participated in regular family meals reported more healthful diets and meal patterns compared to adolescents without regular family meals.
Data were drawn from Project EAT, a population-based, longitudinal study designed to examine socio-environmental, personal, and behavioral determinants of dietary intake and weight status among an ethnically diverse sample of adolescents.
Young adolescents completed classroom surveys and a questionnaire in 1998 and 1999 when they were about 12 to 13 years old (referred to as Time 1), and then completed a further round as middle adolescents five years later (Time 2). The study sample included 303 male and 374 female adolescents.
Regular family meals, defined as five or more meals together per week, declined over time.
Sixty percent of youth had regular family meals during early adolescence compared to 30 percent during middle adolescence.
The researchers found having regular family meals at both Time 1 and Time 2 was associated with greater frequency of consuming breakfast and dinner meals and increased intakes of vegetables, calcium-rich food, dietary fiber, and several nutrients including calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, and zinc five years later.
An important finding is that although adolescents with regular family meals at both Time 1 and Time 2 had better diet quality, on average, overall dietary adequacy was not achieved for the entire study sample.
"These findings suggest that having regular family meals during the transition from early to middle adolescence positively impacts the development of healthful eating behaviours for youth," researcher Teri L. Burgess-Champoux, PhD, RD, LD, said.
The study appears in the March/April 2009 issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.