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A family sitting at their dinner table.

U researchers have found that eating meals as a family may enhance the health and well-being of adolescents.

Family meals and adolescent well-being

From eNews, August 5, 2004

Family meals benefit adolescents by providing routine, consistency, and lessons in communication skills, manners, nutrition, and good eating habits, says lead investigator Marla Eisenberg from the School of Public Health. "Frequent family meals have also been related to better nutritional intake and a decreased risk in adolescents for unhealthy weight control practices, substance use, sexual intercourse, and suicide," she says. Eisenberg and her 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 1998-99 school year in the Twin Cities. Students were surveyed about their lifestyle choices and overall feelings of well-being, including drug or alcohol use, and feelings of depression, and how often they ate with their family. Of the 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 only 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 [thoughts and attempts]," says Eisenberg. "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." She says a likely reason for this benefit is the family meal serving as a formal or informal "check-in" time--when parents can find out or ask their children what's going on in their lives. "Family mealtimes may also serve as a marker for young people spending more time at home and away from negative peer influences or youth culture," she adds. The study is published in the August issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. To learn more about Project EAT and other related finding, see www.epi.umn.edu.

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