Family Meals May Have Long-Term Benefits for Children

A family enjoys a lunch of salad and mezze. Family meals correlate with greater physical and mental well-being in children, according to a study published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. The study looks at how shared meals influence children over a long-term period.

Previous research has also found that family meals are linked to children’s health. However, many such studies did not control for other factors. Researchers were uncertain if family meals help children or if families who eat meals together are healthier to begin with. The new study suggests family meals may be an independent factor in child well-being.

Family Meals: Happier, Healthier Children?

The study used data on 1,492 children who participated in the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development (QLSCD). The study began tracking children when they were five months old. It gathered extensive data on their health, lifestyle, family composition, and other factors.

When the children were six years old, parents began reporting on whether their families ate meals together and the quality of the meal environment.

When the children were 10, researchers asked teachers about participants’ academic achievement. Parents answered questions about their child’s lifestyle habits, and children provided data on their social well-being.

Children whose families ate meals together at age six scored better on many measures of health and well-being. At age 10, they consumed fewer soft drinks and were more physically fit. They were also less likely to show aggression or engage in problem behavior.

Because the QLSCD gathered extensive data about participants, researchers were able to control for many factors linked to child well-being. Some variables were child-specific, like gender, temperament, and cognitive abilities. Other variables measured external influences, like family composition or maternal education. Even after researchers controlled for all these factors, children whose families ate meals together still fared better.

This suggests family meals offer benefits that operate independently of other factors. The study authors believe eating together as a family lets children practice social skills and improves family communication. Those changes likely benefit kids’ long-term well-being.

In a 2013 Gallup poll, 53% of families with children under 18 reported eating meals together at least six days per week.

References:

  1. Eating together as a family helps children feel better, physically and mentally. (2017, December 14). Science Daily. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/12/171214092322.htm
  2. Harbec, M., & Pagani, L. S. (2017). Associations between early family meal environment quality and later well-being in school-age children. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. doi:10.1097/dbp.0000000000000520
  3. Saad, L. (2013, December 26). Most U.S. families still routinely dine together at home. Retrieved from http://news.gallup.com/poll/166628/families-routinely-dine-together-home.aspx

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  • happy mom

    happy mom

    January 17th, 2018 at 9:15 AM

    My family had dinner together every night except Fridays, and now I do this with my kids. Glad to know it pays off!

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