Family Meals

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The Effect of Regular Family Dinners on Family Life

Released 27 July 2018

Executive Summary

Full Report

Media Release Call for Public Health campaign to promote family dinners”

For additional copies, please contact Family First NZ [email protected]



Research shows meal habits linked to wellbeing
Dominion Post 10 Nov 2011
Teenagers who sit down to family meals are less likely to be depressed or take risks with drugs, alcohol and sex, new research shows. A new study commissioned by the Families Commission looking at the role of family meals in the health and wellbeing of young people is the first study on the issue in New Zealand. It uses data collected nationally from more than 9000 secondary school pupils.

It finds that those who eat with their families frequently are less likely to report suicidal thoughts, less likely to be smokers and less likely to indulge in binge-drinking, marijuana use and inconsistent contraception. It says social changes such as more television channels, more mothers working and cheap fast food have altered the status of the family meal. However, the good news for New Zealand is that one-third of young people reported sharing meals with their families seven or more times a week and an additional 40 per cent shared meals three to six times a week.

family dinner 1Eating Together as a Family Creates Better Eating Habits Later in Life
September 2007 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association
Eating together as a family during adolescence is associated with lasting positive effects on dietary quality in young adulthood, according to researchers at the University of Minnesota.

More than 1,500 students were surveyed once during high school and again when they were 20 years old to determine the long-term effects of family meals on diet quality, social eating, meal structure and meal frequency. Participants were asked questions such as how often they ate family meals, how much they enjoyed sitting down to a meal with family or friends, if they had a tendency to eat on the run and how often they ate breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The researchers found eating family meals together during adolescence resulted in adults who ate more fruit, dark-green and orange vegetables and key nutrients, and drank less soft drinks. Frequency of family meals predicted females would eat breakfast as adults. For both sexes, frequency of family meals as adolescents predicted eating dinner more frequently as adults, placing a higher priority on structured meals and a higher priority on social eating. For women, eating together as a family more often during adolescence meant significantly higher daily intakes as adults of calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamin B6 and fiber. Among males, eating as a family more during adolescence predicted higher intakes of calcium, magnesium, potassium and fiber as adults.

New Diet craze: eat with parents
16 November 2005
· Australian researchers have found teenagers who regularly eat with their families are less likely to be overweight.
· Regular family meals could reduce snacking and meant parents had a better knowledge of what and how much their children ate, said lead researcher Dr Abdullah Al Mamun of Queensland University’s school of population health.
· Family meals also made for healthier food and social habits, he said.
· The study, published in the latest edition of American journal Obesity Research, found the importance mothers places on eating together was actually more significant than the frequency with which the family ate together.
· More than three quarters of families in the Brisbane based reported eating together at least once a day, but only 43% them said eating together was very or quite important.

dinner tableThe Importance of Family Dinners
The National Centre on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University September 2003
The more often teenagers have dinner with their parents, the less likely they are to smoke, drink, or use illegal drugs. In fact, compared with teens who have frequent family dinners, those who have dinner with their families only two nights per week or less are at double the risk of substance abuse. Compared with teens who have dinner with their families only two nights per week or less, those who have family dinners five or more nights in a typical week are more likely to report that they have never tried cigarettes (85 percent vs. 65 percent), almost 50 percent likelier to report that they have never tried alcohol (68 percent vs. 47 percent), and more likely to report that they have never tried marijuana (88 percent vs. 71 percent).
Sample or Data Description
1,987 teenagers (1,044 boys and 943 girls) and 504 parents of teenagers in the 48 continental states of the U.S.
“The Importance of Family Dinners”
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University
CASA Survey Report: The Importance of Family Dinners Vol. NA, Number . September, 2003. Page(s) 3, 7.

Eating with family keeps girls healthy
Sydney Morning Herald January 9, 2008
MEALS at the family dinner table could be the key to preventing a generation of teenage girls from developing eating disorders. New research shows girls who regularly have family meals are much less likely to adopt extreme weight control behaviours such as vomiting, binge eating and using laxatives or diet pills.

A study surveying more than 2500 American high school students found that girls who ate five or more family meals a week had a much healthier relationship with food in later life. The research, published in international journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, polled students aged 13 to 17 in 1999 who were followed up five years later. Regular family meals were found to have a protective effect regardless of the girls’ age, weight, socio-economic status, dieting habits or relationship with her family.

Experts say doctors should encourage families to have dinner at the table instead of on the couch in front of the television to protect against serious eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. Belinda Dalton, director of eating disorders clinic The Oak House, said eating with family helped “normalise” young people’s relationship with food. “When adolescents are feeling that they’re not coping they turn to something that they can control and food is something available and accessible for them to control. Clearly, if they’re sitting with their family on a regular basis then their family can be more in control of their eating,” Ms Dalton said. “It’s about families and young people feeling connected within their family and that builds self-esteem and sense of worth and that works very actively against someone developing an eating disorder.”

family dinnerFamily meals a recipe for fit kids
Herald Sun (Aust) April 18, 2008
YOUNG kids who don’t eat regular family meals and do watch lots of TV are more likely to be overweight, a new study has found. And if they gain weight by grade 3 in primary school, they are likely to never lose it, the US study of 8500 children shows. Family meals and TV-watching in kinder, prep and grade 1 are a better indicator of obesity than the amount of exercise the child does and their use of local parks, the findings show. Australian experts say the results are the same here, with obesity levels rising. A recent report found that a quarter of families no longer eat together regularly.

The US study, published in the latest Journal of the American Dietetic Association, found children are particularly sensitive to weight gain between the ages of five and seven which is likely to plague them for life. Every hour of TV watched and every meal not eaten together as a family raises the chance of obesity.

….”Being overweight among this age group tracks notably into adulthood,” lead author Sara Gable says. “Preparing meals at home provides an opportunity for parents and children to consider food preferences and plan menus, allows for conversation about the day, and creates a setting for adults to model healthful attitudes towards food and eating.”,21985,23557821-662,00.html

Frequency Of Family Meals May Prevent Teen Adjustment Problems; Teens Less Likely To Do Drugs, More Motivated In School 21 August 1997
Volumes have been written and spoken about how to keep teenagers out of trouble. But the answer, according to a study presented at the American Psychological Association’s (APA) 105th Annual Convention, may be as simple as eating meals together as a family more often.

Psychologists Blake Sperry Bowden, Ph.D., from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and Jennie M Zeisz, Ph.D., from DePaul University categorized 527 teenagers as either well-adjusted or not well-adjusted and then looked at the number of times per week that they ate dinner together with their families at home. The adjusted teens — who were less likely to do drugs, less likely to be depressed, more motivated at school and had better peer relationships — ate with their families an average of five days a week compared to the nonadjusted teens who only ate with their families three days a week.

Clearly family mealtimes are strongly related to adjustment, but exactly what aspect of the event — the sharing, the stories teens tell about their day or hear from others in the family — helps prevent adjustment problems for them hasn’t been pinpointed. But, say the authors, family mealtimes, it would appear, play an important role in helping teens deal with the pressures of adolescence.

Regular family meals boost GCSE exam results (UK)
Telegraph (UK) 26 June 2008
Children perform better at school if parents impose traditional values in the home, Government research suggests. They are more likely to get five good GCSEs when parents insist on sharing family meals every night – and set regular evening curfews, figures show. Irrespective of social class, family “togetherness” was seen as one of the biggest bearings on success in the classroom. It comes as the Government targets parents in an attempt to boost school standards. Last week, Ed Balls, the schools secretary, said mothers and fathers contributed to poor behaviour at England’s toughest schools because they refuse to punish their children. He insisted more parents should “play their part”, and outlined plans for a new system of on-line reporting so they can be instantly informed if their children step out of line.

Research published by the Department for Children, Schools and Families yesterday showed 16-year-olds were much more likely to stay on at school if they “get on” with parents. “There is a strong relationship between regularity of having a family evening meal and GCSE attainment,” it said.

Researchers analysed the findings of two major reports tracking the progress of 19,000 schoolchildren. At the age of 14, pupils were asked how often they sat down for an evening meal with their family. According to the report, 50 per cent of those eating with mothers, fathers and siblings six or seven times a week gained eight or more A* to C grades, compared to 31 per cent of teenagers who never ate with families. At the same time, pupils reported whether or not parents set a curfew on a school night. Sixty per cent of those who said they were not allowed out late during the week were awarded eight good GCSEs, against 36 per cent who said parents “sometimes” set curfews.

happy familyMore family meals mean less risky teen sex
Reuters 24 July 2008
Parents who do not want their teens to engage in risky sexual behaviour should make family time a priority, a new study suggests. Adolescents who took part in family activities more often had sex less frequently, less unprotected sex, and fewer sex partners, Dr Rebekah Levine Coley of Boston College and her colleagues found. Most research on parenting and teen sexual behaviour has simply looked at whether or not a teen has had sex, not the degree of sexual risk he or she takes, Coley noted in an interview with Reuters Health. But given that two out of three US teens have sex before they turn 19, more specific information would provide a better understanding of the risks involved, Coley and her team point out in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

To investigate, as well as to better define whether parental qualities influence a child’s sexual behaviour rather than vice versa, Coley and her team used increasingly stringent statistical techniques to analyze the results of a survey of 4950 US teens, 1058 of whom were siblings. The adolescents were 12 to 16 years old when the study began, and completed the survey every year for 3 years. By comparing parenting quality and sexual behaviour for siblings raised in the same household, Coley noted, it is possible to tease out potential cause-and-effect relationships.

The more times a week that an adolescent reported having dinner with their family, “doing something religious” as a family, or having fun with their family, the less likely he or she was to engage in risky sexual behaviour, the researchers found. However, having a parent who used “negative and psychologically controlling” behaviour increased the likelihood that a teen would be having risky sex. This includes “criticizing the ideas of the adolescents, controlling and directing what they think and how they feel,” Coley explained. “Negative and psychologically controlling parenting behaviour may inhibit adolescents’ development of self-efficacy and identity, interfere with mature and responsible decision making skills, and affect the development of healthy relationships, in turn leading to an elevated likelihood of engaging in risky behaviour,” the researchers suggest. On the other hand, they add, family activities are “centrally important supports for children, providing opportunities for emotional warmth, communication, and transmission of values and beliefs.” The findings make it clear, Coley said, that “what parents do with their adolescents really matters.”

Family Mealtimes Decrease Teen Rebellion
Presence of parents is key…
before school
after school
dinner time
11,572 teenagers over 6 years
National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health
Reported in Journal of American Medical Association 1999
More info:

Toddlers eat ‘horrifying’ diet
BBC / UK Telegraph 1 April 2004 Mother and Baby Magazine Survey 2,000 parents.
Nine out of 10 toddlers were allowed to eat junk food, often in front of the television, and half did not eat the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables each day.

When toddlers ranging in age from 12 months to three and a half years were made to sit at the table, mealtimes were commonly described as a “nightmare”. Seven in 10 pushed their dinner off the table and refused to eat, six in 10 threw their food, half tried to climb down from the table and four in 10 screamed. Six out of 10 mothers say they lose their patience during mealtimes.
Nearly half of all toddlers never eat with the family, only 12 per cent regularly eat out with their child in tow, and 42 per cent have never eaten out in a restaurant with their toddler. Another problem was “constant snacking”. Most parents acknowledged their children would benefit from stricter family mealtimes.

Regular Family Meals Result In Better Eating Habits For Adolescents
ScienceDaily (Mar. 10, 2009)
Good eating habits can result when families eat together. In the March/April 2009 issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, researchers from the School of Public Health, University of Minnesota report on one of the first studies to examine the long-term benefits of regular family meals for diet quality during the transition from early to middle adolescence. In general, the study found 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 socioenvironmental, 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% during middle adolescence. 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.

Parents should eat with their children rather than cook their own special meals.
Herald Sun (Aust) 21 Sep 09
That’s one of the key recommendations of the authors of a new guide to healthy eating and lifestyles for families, created by the team behind the best-selling series of CSIRO diet books. The CSIRO Wellbeing Plan for Kids, released on September 28, is not focused on weight-loss or diet plans. Instead, it contains practical tips and solutions to common dilemmas with children, such as not liking vegetables, skipping breakfast or spending too much time watching TV . It also has more than 100 recipes, from breakfast to slower meals, as well as takeaway alternatives. These are dishes not just for children but for the whole family.

The importance of parents as role models is a recurring theme. And sitting down to the same meal is seen as vital. “The same basic healthy food should make up what children eat and what an adult eats,” co-author and research dietitian Dr Jane Bowen said. “The whole family should eat the same thing. Children don’t need special food. That reinforces to children picky-eating behaviour, and it’s also a lot of work for parents.”

Children who have family meals are ‘less likely to be overweight and binge on junk food’
Daily Mail UK 2nd May 2011
Children who sit down to eat with their families are less likely to be overweight and eat unhealthy foods, according to researchers. They found youngsters who ate with their parents at least three times a week were 12 per cent less likely to be overweight. The children were also 20 per cent less likely to eat junk food, 35 per cent less likely to have eating problems like skipping meals or bingeing, and 24 per cent more likely to eat vegetables and other healthy foods. Sitting down together as a family, there are nutritional benefits from that,’ said Amber Hammons, from the University of Illinois at Urbana, Champaign, whose findings are published in the journal Pediatrics. However, the latest paper reviewed 17 studies that were based on observations not actual experiments, and Professor Hammons acknowledged this didn’t prove shared meals trim waistlines. ‘It’s just an association,’ she said. Families who sit down together could be healthier to begin with.’

Teenagers who eat with their parents are up to 35% less likely to have eating disorders
Daily Mail (UK) 13th July 2011
Teenagers who switch off the TV and sit down to family meals are less likely to suffer eating disorders. A study has credited eating together with lower rates of bulimia and anorexia. Meals are also less likely to be skipped, and adolescents used to eating round the table are less likely to take up smoking to lose weight. Researcher Barbara Fiese said: ‘The common belief is that teens don’t want to be around their parents very much, and that teens are just too busy for regular meals with the family. Happy families: Teenagers who eat with their parents are likely to be more connected, making conversations about bad diet and dangerous eating habits less awkward ‘Parents may not be able to get their families together around the table seven days a week, but if they can schedule three family meals a week, they will safeguard their teens’ health in significant ways. Professor Fiese spoke out after reviewing 17 studies on eating patterns and nutrition involving almost 200,000 children and teenagers. She found that teens who eat at least five meals a week with their families are 35 per cent less likely to be ‘disordered eaters’.

Recommended Website:

Other Articles of Interest:

Background: Research on Family Meals
Washington State University
· Frequency of Family Meals
· Benefits of Eating Together:
Better Adjustment of Children
Better Nutrition
· Can family Dinners be Harmful?
· Obstacles to Family Mealtimes:

The Benefits of Eating Together
The Family Who Eats Together Stays Together
— By Becky Hand, Licensed & Registered Dietician