Children who regularly sit down with their families to eat tend to enjoy better health, have a considerably lower risk of becoming obese, and develop healthy eating habits, researchers from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign revealed in the journal Pediatrics. Regularly means at least three meals per week.

The authors add that children who share meals with their families frequently are also much less likely to have disordered eating, which is one of the early signs of a potential eating disorder.

This is the first study, the authors explain, that determined whether there might be a link between shared family meals and nutritional health in children.

Amber J. Hammons, PhD, wrote:

“Overall, families that eat 5 or more meals together have children who are ~25% less likely to encounter nutritional health issues than children who eat [less than or equal to] 1 meal with their families. Shared family meals seem to operate as a protective factor for overweight, unhealthy eating, and disordered eating.”

Hammons and Barbara H. Fiese, PhD. examined the findings of 17 studies on child nutrition and eating patterns involving over 182,000 kids, including teenagers.

There was a clear correlation between shared family meals and better health and eating habits.

They found that children who share their meals with the rest of the family five times a week had a 35% lower chance of engaging in disordered eating, compared to other kids.

In this study, disordered eating includes:

  • bingeing/purging
  • deliberate vomiting
  • fasting
  • missing meals
  • taking diet pills
  • taking up smoking as a weight loss strategy
  • under-eating
  • using diuretics
  • using laxatives

The authors wrote:

“For children or adolescents with disordered eating, mealtimes may provide a setting in which parents can recognize early signs and take steps to prevent detrimental patterns from turning into full-blown eating disorders. In addition, family meals are predictive of family-connectedness, which may encourage adolescents to talk about such issues within their families.”

Kids who sat with their families at least three times a week were found to have a 24% greater chance of eating healthy foods and having good eating habits, compared to other children who shared meals with their families less often.

Eight studies examined looked at weight status. The researchers found that those who ate together at least three times per week had a 12% lower probability of being overweight.

“Is Frequency of Shared Family Meals Related to the Nutritional Health of Children and Adolescents?”
Amber J. Hammons, PhD, Barbara H. Fiese, PhD
PEDIATRICS doi:10.1542/peds.2010-1440

Written by Christian Nordqvist