Family meals appear to be associated with adolescent's well-being


CHICAGO A Minnesota survey suggests that eating family meals may be associated with improved health and well-being in adolescents, according to an article in the August issue of The Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, a theme issue on mental health and one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Family meals benefit adolescents by providing them routine, consistency, and an opportunity to be taught about communication skills, manners, nutrition, and good eating habits, according to background information in the article. "Frequent family meals have also been related to better nutritional intake and a decreased risk for unhealthy weight control practices, substance use, sexual intercourse, and suicidal involvement," the article states.

Marla E. Eisenberg, Sc.D., M.P.H., from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, and colleagues examined data from Project EAT (Eating Among Teens), a survey of 4,746 middle school and high school students (average age, 14.9 years) during the 1998 1999 school year in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Students were surveyed about lifestyle choices and overall feelings of well-being, including how often they ate with their family; how often they used drugs or alcohol; self-esteem level; grade point average; feelings of depression; and suicide thoughts and attempts.

Of students surveyed, 26.8 percent reported eating seven or more meals with their family in the past week, while 33.1 percent ate with their family one to two times per week or never.

"Frequency of family meals was inversely associated with tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana use; low grade point average; depressive symptoms; and suicide involvement," the article states.

"We found family mealtimes to be a potentially protective factor in the lives of adolescents for nearly all of these variables, particularly among adolescent girls," write the authors. "In examining relationships between family meals and dependent variables controlling for related risk behaviors, we found that family meals were protective against some substance use even when use of other substances may have already been initiated. We did not find that family meals continued to be protective in the area of emotional health; however, this may be because of the progressive, causal relationship among these variables."

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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