Even when families have issues, eating together can improve teen diets

Even when families have issues, eating together can improve teen diets

Teens whose families eat dinner together are more likely to make healthy food choices, even when kids and parents have issues with communicating and connecting emotionally, a new study finds.

More frequent family dinners were associated with more healthful eating among teens and young adults, even when families were not especially close and had trouble managing daily routines, researchers report in JAMA Network Open.

“The big thing is that over and beyond family functioning, family meals still matter when you’re thinking about dietary intake for adolescents,” said the study’s lead author Kathryn Walton, who was a doctoral student at the University of Guelph, Canada, when she did the research.

“Many, many studies have looked at the benefit of family meals, and over and over they have found that this leads to adolescents eating more fruits and vegetables and less fast food and sugar-sweetened beverages,” said Walton, now a research fellow at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

But, she said, “Critics have suggested that family dysfunction may interrupt the benefits of family meals because it may be harder for low-functioning families to organize and prepare meals or to have healthy foods available in the home….”

Walton and her colleagues analyzed data on teen and young adult children of men and women who participated in the large, long-term Nurse’s Health Study. Walton’s team included data on 2,728 young people aged 14 to 24 who were living with their parents in 2011.

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