Eating together as a family during adolescence is associated with lasting positive effects on dietary quality in young adulthood, according to researchers at the University of Minnesota.
More than 1,500 students were surveyed once during high school and again when they were 20 years old to determine the long-term effects of family meals on diet quality, social eating, meal structure and meal frequency. Participants were asked questions such as how often they ate family meals, how much they enjoyed sitting down to a meal with family or friends, if they had a tendency to eat on the run and how often they ate breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The researchers found eating family meals together during adolescence resulted in adults who ate more fruit, dark-green and orange vegetables and key nutrients, and drank less soft drinks. Frequency of family meals predicted females would eat breakfast as adults. For both sexes, frequency of family meals as adolescents predicted eating dinner more frequently as adults, placing a higher priority on structured meals and a higher priority on social eating.
For women, eating together as a family more often during adolescence meant significantly higher daily intakes as adults of calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamin B6 and fiber. Among males, eating as a family more during adolescence predicted higher intakes of calcium, magnesium, potassium and fiber as adults.
"Results of this study suggest that having more family meals during adolescence is associated with improved diet quality during young adulthood," the researchers say. "Food and nutrition professionals should encourage families to share meals as often as practically possible."
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