Childhood family meals protect against overweight in early adulthood

April 1, 2015

Teenagers who eat at least 1 meal a week with their families are less likely than those who never eat with their families to be overweight or obese when they reach their 20s or 30s, according to a large longitudinal study.

Teenagers who eat at least 1 meal a week with their families are less likely than those who never eat with their families to be overweight or obese when they reach their 20s or 30s, according to a large longitudinal study.

About one-third of the more than 2250 racially/ethnically and socioeconomically diverse participants in the 10-year study were in middle school at baseline and had a mean age of 23.2 years at follow-up; the other two-thirds were in high school at baseline and had a mean age of 26.2 years at 10-year follow-up. At that time, 51% of total participants were overweight and 22% were obese.

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At baseline and at follow-up, all participants answered a 221-item survey that assessed socioenvironmental, personal, behavioral, and familial factors, including a query about how many times during the past 7 days their family had a meal together. Among adolescents who reported that their family never ate meals together, 60% were overweight at 10-year follow-up and 29% were obese. By comparison, among teenagers who reported 1 to 2 family meals a week at baseline, 47% were overweight at 10-year follow-up, and 22% were obese. In other words, these youngsters were 45% less likely to be overweight as young adults than those who never had family meals as teenagers (Berge JM, et al. J Pediatr. 2015;166[2]:296-301).

Commentary: Here’s another choice that parents can make to improve the weight and health of their children. Although the mechanism is unclear, this association between family meals and healthy weight has been shown before. Even with the busy schedules many families follow, having the 1 to 2 family meals a week shown here to be linked to improved weight health seems like an attainable goal. -Michael G Burke, MD

Ms Freedman is a freelance medical editor and writer in New Jersey. Dr Burke, section editor for Journal Club, is chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at Saint Agnes Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland. The editors have nothing to disclose in regard to affiliations with or financial interests in any organizations that may have an interest in any part of this article.