Adolescents - The Importance Of Dining At Home

April 3, 2009

When adolescents eat dinner with family on a regular basis, they develop better and healthier eating habits later in life, reports a new study.

The experts from the University of Minnesota claim that when kids dine at home, they consume more veggies, food rich in calcium, dietary fibers and important nutrients and minerals. Data for the study was taken from Project EAT, a population-based, longitudinal project that analyzes socio-environmental, personal, and behavioral determining factors of dietary habits and weight status among an ethnically diverse number of adolescents. The goal of the researchers was to figure out if young people are meeting national dietary recommendations, and also to investigate on the dieting and physical activity patterns among youth.

A lead researcher Teri L. Burgess-Champoux, PhD, RD, LD, of the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health, and colleagues recruited 677 adolescents, of whom 303 were males and 374 were females. All the participants have been surveyed twice, first time in 1998 and 1999, during middle school when their average age was about 12 to 13 years, and for the second time in 2003 and 2004, during high school when their average age was 17.2 years.

The results revealed that within 5 years between filling out the questionnaires, the number of regular meals that adolescents had with their family, fell from 60 per cent (during their yearly teen years), to about 30 per cent, when they were about 17 or 18. The researchers said that having family meals on a regular basis was mostly associated with a greater frequency of having breakfast and dinner at home. They found that kids who ate 5 or more meals per week together with the family at both points of their life - in early and middle adolescence - had much healthier diet quality, and ate plenty of foods rich in calcium, dietary fiber and minerals such as magnesium, calcium, iron, and zinc, during the entire 5-year period of the research.

However, in spite of the fact that consuming regular family meals was associated with a better diet, on average, still the adequate levels of healthy dietary staples, such as fruit, veggies and whole grains, have not been consumed. The researchers wrote that their results coincide with the national consumption data that shows dietary consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and vitamins and minerals in this age group is very problematic.

Dr. Burgess-Champoux said that the findings of the new survey strongly suggest that regular meals that teens have together with their families, result in the long-term nutritional benefits for them. "The importance of incorporating shared mealtime experiences on a consistent basis during this key developmental period should be emphasized to parents, health-care providers and educators," the scientist added.

On the other hand, there are other benefits of family dinner for both children and their parents, such as opportunity to socialize, share daily news, and also to establish and maintain open communication that leads to stronger family bond and relationships, and enhanced well-being of adolescents. And what is even more, there is a chance for parents to provide their kids with the knowledge and skills about healthy food, the knowledge that would have a positive impact on their future health and overall well-being.

The study is published in the March/April issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

Tags: Parenting and Families

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