Family Values: How Eating as a Family Can Help Prevent Eating Disorders and Depression
The concept of eating together as a family seems to be outdated nowadays when even the younger members of the family find themselves overwhelmed with school and extracurricular activities.
However, several studies have shown that eating as a family can reduce the likelihood of teens, particularly girls, developing problems with alcohol, eating disorders and depression.
Learning Healthy Eating Habits
According to a study conducted by the University of Minnesota in 2007, adolescents from families that ate meals together had better nutritional habits as adults. Researchers surveyed more than 1,500 students during their high school years, and then again when they were 20 years old. The survey looked into the long-term effects of family meals on diet quality, social eating, meal structure and meal frequency. The results showed that adults who had eaten more family meals ate more fruit, dark green and orange vegetables and other key nutrients.
Additionally, the frequency of family meals as adolescents predicted the frequency with which a person ate dinner as an adult. The more often a person ate these meals as a child, the higher his or her priority was to have structured meals as an adult. Particularly for women, eating together as a family seemed to be beneficial. The results of the study showed that women had a significantly higher likelihood to have a daily intake of calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamin B6 and fiber.
Learning to Share and Talk
A more recent study conducted last year by Tufts University School of Medicine showed that eating frequently as a family can reduce the likelihood that teens will struggle with problems like depression and eating disorders. Margie Skeer, assistant professor of public health and community medicine at Tufts, states that mealtimes can serve as a conduit for open, ongoing conversation, where people do not just eat together, but talk and share about their day. Skeer suggests that the meal itself is not as important as is the dialogue and interpersonal exchanges that occur during mealtimes. Mealtimes provide a natural, consistent family structure in a teen's life, which is very important for his or her development.
Skeer states that parents need to use family meals as an opportunity to learn about the everyday and ongoing aspects of their child's life. This environment facilitates a basic comfort level that enhances the process of communicating in general, which in the long run will make discussing more sensitive, difficult topics, such as substance abuse, less difficult. When family meals are a place where everyone talks about their day, it indicates to a child that a parent is making him or her a priority. Building this sense of importance conveys a sense of trust, which is crucial for engaging in difficult conversations. Lastly, dedicated time during mealtimes with kids can help parents to see patterns in their child's life such as clothing, friends and grades, which can help them to identify depression and eating disorder symptoms before a condition gets out of control.