March 10, 2009 / 7:55 PM / 10 years ago

Family meals encourage healthy teen eating habits

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Parents wanting to instill good eating habits in their children, particularly teenagers, should make sure they eat meals together.

Then-U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) and his wife Michelle sit in a booth for a family meal with their daughters, Malia and Sasha (both obscured), at Jorge's Sombrero Mexican restaurant in Pueblo, Colorado in this file photo from November 1, 2008. REUTERS/Jason Reed

In one of the first long-term studies to look at the benefits of family meals, researchers at the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota found that family meals have a big impact on adolescents because they encourage healthy eating habits and good nutritional choices.

“These findings suggest that having regular family meals during the transition from early to middle adolescence positively impacts the development of healthful behaviors for youth,” said Teri L. Burgess-Champoux, who worked on the study.

“The importance of incorporating shared mealtime experiences on a consistent basis during this key developmental period should be emphasized to parents, healthcare providers and educators.”

The researchers examined data from Project EAT, a study that looked at which socioeconomic, personal and behavioral factors affect the eating habits of nearly 400 children.

The students completed questionnaires when they were 12 to 13 years old and another about five years later.

During the early teen years, 60 percent of the children had regular meals with their family, compared to 30 percent during later adolescence.

Children who ate five or more meals a week together as a family in both early and middle adolescence ate healthier meals with plenty of vegetables and foods rich in calcium, fiber and minerals five years later.

Although eating regular family meals was linked with better eating, overall an adequate diet was not achieved for the entire study sample, the researchers said.

They added that findings, which were published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, are consistent with national consumption data that shows dietary intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and vitamins and minerals in this age group is problematic.

Reporting by Patricia Reaney; editing by Leslie Gevirtz

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