Shared family meals improve nutritional health of children and teens

A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics, is a good reminder that making time for family meals should be a priority.

Researchers from the University of Illinois conducted a meta-analysis of 17 studies including almost 183 000 children and adolescents aged 3-17 years to look at the relationship between the frequency of shared family mealtimes and nutritional health. The studies looked at overweight and obesity, food consumption, eating patterns, and disordered eating.

Combining the results of these studies, the researchers found that compared to those who ate together less often, the children and adolescents who shared three or more family meals per week:

  • were more likely to be in the normal weight range – they had a 12% lower chance of being overweight
  • had healthier dietary and eating patterns – they were 20% less likely to eat unhealthy foods (which included soft drinks, fast food, fried food, and lollies as well as unhealthy behaviours such as missing breakfast) and 24% more likely to eat healthy foods (which included fruits and vegetables, and including breakfast)
  • were 35% less likely to show signs of disordered eating

These findings suggest that shared family meals provide many benefits when it comes to improving the health and nutrition of our children and teens, and that is it well worth the effort of planning time in our busy schedules to eat family meals together.

Hammons & Fiese. Is Frequency of Shared Family Meals Related to the Nutritional Health of Children and Adolescents?Pediatrics 2011;127:e1565–e1574

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