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Family Meals Improve Teen Diet

Adolescents More Likely to Get Proper Nutrients
WebMD Health News

March 4, 2003 -- We've heard over and over again how important it is to get kids to eat their fruits and veggies. But how can you make this happen? Joining your kids at mealtimes appears to do the trick.

Previous studies have shown that when families sit down together, high-fat foods and sodas are less likely to be a part of a teen's diet. In addition, researchers have found that teens who regularly eat with their families are more likely to eat a diet containing the nutrients they need, like calcium, folate, vitamins, and iron.

In the current study, researchers wanted to learn the effects of family mealtime on older teens and determine how different aspects of a child's life may play into this association.

They studied more than 4,500 children aged 11 to 18. Teens who ate at least seven family meals a week ate fewer snack foods in their overall diet. And as seen in previous studies, these teens ate more fruits, vegetables, grains, and high-nutrient foods. The study is published in the March issue of the Journal of The American Dietetic Association.

The study also revealed:

  • Girls were less likely to eat with family than boys.
  • Middle-school children ate more family meals than high school students.
  • Asian-American families and families where the mother was unemployed ate together most frequently.
  • Families who were well-off were more likely to have many family meals together.

But getting everyone together isn't that easy. A previous study showed that while 74% of the students indicated they enjoyed family mealtime, more than half reported that it was difficult to get everyone together because of busy work, school, and extracurricular schedules.

Researchers say dietitians and other healthcare providers need to find ways to get families together for mealtimes. Not only will the quality of the child's meal get better, but the time together can also improve family dynamics, they add.

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