Regular family meals contribute to good mental health in adolescents, reveals a new study. Family meal times are a perfect measure of family interactions in the home that benefit adolescents’ wellbeing.
“More frequent family dinners related to fewer emotional and behavioural problems, greater emotional wellbeing, more trusting and helpful behaviours towards others and higher life satisfaction,” says Frank Elgar, an associate professor in the Faculty of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry at McGill University.
The research team examined the correlation between frequency of family dinners and positive/negative aspects of mental health. The researchers used a national sample of 26,069 adolescents aged 11 – 15 years who participated in the 2010 Canadian Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children study. Family meal time had a positive effect on the mental health of the young subjects, regardless of gender, age or family affluence.
“We were surprised to find such consistent effects on every outcome we studied,” says Elgar. “From having no dinners together to eating together seven nights a week, each additional dinner related to significantly better mental health.”
During the study, the adolescents informed the research team about the how often in the week they had family dinners, how easily they were able to communicate with parents and five dimensions of mental health, including internalising and externalising problems, emotional wellbeing, more helpful behaviours and life satisfaction.
According to the authors, family mealtimes are opportunities for open family interactions through which adolescents can learn coping positive health behaviours such as good nutritional choices from parents, as well as express concerns to the parents and feel valued. Such interactions are conducive to good mental health in adolescents.