A review of research studies conducted on the benefits of family meals shows that there are many positive psychosocial consequences in youth and children. In adolescents psychosocial dysfunction is one of the most widely identified conditions. Family meals allow time for bonding, constancy, and aiding in children’s social growth. In addition to the psychosocial benefits, family meals also play a role in children developing good nutrition habits. This study focused primarily on the incidence of disordered eating, externalizing and internalizing behaviors.
Of the studies reviewed, it was concluded that overall family meals are inversely proportional to the incidence of disordered eating. This was true for extreme weight-control measures such as diet pills, purging by vomiting, and use of laxatives; as well as less extreme measures such as skipping meals, fasting and using food substitutes. There were also lower rates of binge eating and chronic dieting.
External behaviors such as substance abuse, alcohol use and violence were generally shown to be lower in cases in which families had meals together. The reduced rates of using cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana was particularly consistent in cases of young females. Two studies found an inverse association between family meals and violent acts such as fighting, hitting, causing injury and threatening physical harm.
The studies finally were examined to determine the relationship between family meals and internalized behaviors. Body image concerns in females related to dissatisfaction and need for thinness were found to be inversely related family meals. Several studies found that the frequency of family meals was negatively related to low self-esteem; while others found that meal frequency was positively related to increased self-worth. In both males and females there appeared to be a correlation between frequency of family meals and increased grade point average. Finally the studies examined showed there was decreased reports of depression with higher frequency of family meals.
Family meals offer many nutritional and health benefits. However, often overlooked are the psychosocial benefits that are related to family meals. Those can include lower rates of disordered eating, less substance abuse and violence, and increased self-worth, self-image, and academic achievement.
Harrison ME, Norris ML, Obeid N, Fu M, Weinstangel H, Sampson M. Systematic review of the effects of family meal frequency on psychosocial outcomes in youth. Canadian Family Physician. 2015;61(2):e96-e106.