September was Family Meals Month. Family meals -- that time-honored ritual, where kids and their parent/parents sat down at a pre-ordained hour and shared food and a recitation of each one’s daily events, seems to be quickly becoming a thing of the past. If today, on that rare occasion, everyone happens to be gathered around the table at the same time, conversation is often replaced by texting, checking emails and social media.
We’re all busy, right? Kids have extracurricular activities and parents have work demands requiring 24/7 access by smart phone. Stretched for time, we are now eating as many, if not more, meals on the go than at home – increasingly, eating separately as well. We can bemoan the loss of family time for sentimental reasons, but there is more to it than that.
What if the loss of family meal time has a measurable effect on the physical, mental and emotional health of our kids? Study after study shows scientific proof of the positive, lifelong benefits of family meals on both kids and adults. The consensus? Family meals “nourish the spirit, brain and health of all family members.”
The Upside of Eating Together -- According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, children who eat at home more regularly with their families:
• are less likely to suffer from obesity;
• are less likely to develop disordered eating behaviors;
• have a healthier diet with greater intake of fruits and vegetables -- even more, kids who cook with their parents are more likely to eat and enjoy healthier food;
• are more likely to do better in school;
• have a closer relationship with parents and siblings;
• are more likely to exhibit prosocial behavior as adults, such as sharing, fairness and respect;
• have more self-esteem and are more likely to resist negative peer pressure;
• are more likely to delay sexual activity; and
• are less likely to try drugs or alcohol at an earlier age.
In fact, with each additional family meal shared each week, adolescents are less likely to show symptoms of violence, depression and suicide, less likely to use or abuse drugs or run away, and less likely to engage in risky behavior or delinquent acts.
The Downside of Not Eating Together -- The statistics are pretty startling. According to a major study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health on the relationship between certain family characteristics and adolescent problem behaviors, teens who have infrequent family dinners (fewer than three per week) are:
• 3.5 times more likely to have abused prescription drugs or have used an illegal drug other than marijuana or prescription drugs;
• 3 times more likely to have used marijuana;
• 2 times more likely to have used tobacco;
• 1.5 times more likely to have used alcohol.
Family meals help build family relationships where kids are more likely to share their joys and struggles. Research also says that besides eating together, kids who participate in the preparation of family meals gain a sense of accomplishment and self-confidence. Family meals are not a magic bullet, but they come pretty close.
Check out LNKTV Health at lnktv.lincoln.ne.gov for a community wellness calendar. Visit the “Health & the City” playlist on YouTube (@LNKTVhealth) for family-friendly nutrition and cooking tips.
Partnership for a Healthy Lincoln (HealthyLincoln.org) and LNKTV Health (LNKTVhealth.lincoln.ne.gov) bring you Health and the City, a monthly column that examines relevant community health issues and spotlights the local organizations that impact community wellness. Direct questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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