Relationships between frequency of family meals and nutritional aspects of the home food environment among adolescents


Accessibility of healthy and unhealthy foods at home, parental modelling of healthy eating, family eating patterns and work demands all influence the eating practices of children and families. Family meals are one aspect of the home environment associated with the overall well-being of adolescents. Adolescents who eat meals with their families eat more fruits and vegetables, drink fewer soft drinks, are more likely to eat breakfast, and have better nutrition profiles, especially for calcium and saturated fat. Furthermore, regular consumption of family meals during adolescence is associated with better dietary practices during young adulthood. The objective of this research was to examine the relationships between consumption of family meals and other aspects of the home food environment and nutrition behaviors that may influence adolescent nutrition among a large, diverse population of adolescents.

the Pacific Obesity Prevention In Communities study

Data were collected during the baseline measurements for the Pacific Obesity Prevention In Communities (OPIC) study: a muti-site intervention aiming to reduce overweight/obesity among predominately Pacific adolescents. Data for the current study were collected at the New-Zealand site; study participants were drawn from six high schools in a geographically defined, economically disadvantaged area during the 2005 school year.

All students attending the school during the days of data collection were invited to answer a questionnaire about their eating and activity behaviours. In total, 3245 students agreed to participate (response rate 62%). Final analyses were conducted with the 3119 students who had complete Survey data about nutrition and physical activity patterns and physical measurements. Parents of students under age 16 and students aged 16 years and older consented to participation.

The University of Auckland Human Participants Ethics Committee granted ethical approval for the study.

The importance of family meals… In total, 42% of students had a meal with their family on all of the past five school nights. Frequency of family meals was positively associated with many of the more healthful aspects of the home food environment. Adolescents that reported having family meals everyday were significantly more likely to perceive a lot of parental support for healthy eating, have limits on their television use, and have fruit available in their home every day. Frequency of family meals was also positively associated with eating five fruits and vegetables a day, eating fruit as an afternoon snack, bringing lunch from home, and eating breakfast at home before school (all p<0.001). Furthermore, in many cases, the strength of the associations increased with the frequency of eating family meals.

Of interest, frequency of family meals was not associated with the home availability of less healthy snack foods (chips, chocolates, and soft drinks) or with the less healthy dietary behaviors (soft drink consumption, fast food consumption, fried foods for afternoon snacks, or chocolates for afternoon snacks). Adolescents who ate family meals everyday were as likely to have less healthy snack foods at home most days and consume them compared with those who did not eat family meals.

… to improve adolescent eating habits

Our findings suggest that there are a number of positive aspects of the home food environment associated with family meals that may be potential mechanisms for the positive associations between family meals and improved adolescent nutrition. Interventions to promote family meals should recognise the issues that prevent families from eating together and acknowledge other aspects of the home food environment promoting healthy eating. Perhaps the most salient implication is that interventions with families need to address the availability and consumption of unhealthy snack foods at home.

Utter J, Scragg R, Schaaf D, Ni Mhurchu C. Relationships between frequency of family meals, BMI and nutritional aspects of the home food
environment among New Zealand adolescents. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2008 5:50

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