As children become teenagers, it may be more challenging to regularly include them in family meals, but doing so is key to heading off such problems as eating disorders, obesity, and inadequate nutrition in adolescence, said Barbara Fiese, a University of Illinois professor of human development and family studies and director of the U of I's Family Resiliency Center.
"The common belief is that teens don't want to be around their parents very much, and that teens are just too busy for regular meals with the family," she said. "Parents may not be able to get their families together around the table seven days a week, but if they can schedule three family meals a week, they will safeguard their teens' health in significant ways."
She advises family members to pull out their schedules and find out which nights they can commit to, then follow through and make family meals on those nights a priority.
In the June issue of Pediatrics
, Fiese and postdoctoral research associate Amber Hammons reviewed 17 recent studies on eating patterns and nutrition involving more than 182,000 children and adolescents.
The results showed that teens who eat at least five meals a week with their families are 35 percent less likely to engage in disordered eating than teens who don't. The researchers defined disordered eating as binging and purging, taking diet pills, self-induced vomiting, using laxatives or diuretics
, fasting, eating very little, skipping meals, and/or smoking cigarettes to lose weight
"For children and adolescents with disordered eating, mealtime provides a setting in which parents can recognize early signs and take steps to prevent detrimental patterns from turning into full-blowing eating disorders," she said.
Children who ate at least three family meals a week were also 12 percent less likely to be overweight than those who ate with their families less often. And...