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Families That Eat Together Serve Up Good Dietary Habits

Kids make smarter food choices later on, study finds

FRIDAY, March 27 (HealthDay News) -- A new long-term study says that kids in families that have at least five meals together a week tend to practice good eating habits.

University of Minnesota researchers reported that adolescents who eat these so-called "regular family meals" had more healthful diets, meaning they consumed more vegetables, calcium-rich food, dietary fiber and essential nutrients.

For the study, the eating habits of 677 youths were assessed through questionnaires they filled in during their pre- and early teen years and again five years later. The results were published in the March/April issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

"Findings from the current analysis, in conjunction with similar findings from a longitudinal analysis of older adolescents transitioning to young adulthood, strongly suggest that regular family meals have long-term nutritional benefits," researcher and dietitian Teri L. Burgess-Champoux of the university's school of public health, said in a news release issued by the journal publisher. "The importance of incorporating shared mealtime experiences on a consistent basis during this key developmental period should be emphasized to parents, health-care providers and educators."

In the five years between filling out the questionnaires, the number of regular family meals the kids ate fell from 60 percent of their meals when they were age 12 or 13 to about 30 percent when they were 17 or 18. Good dietary habits were associated with kids having these regular family meals at times of measurement. Those who ate regular family meals at both points of their life had a better diet quality, on average, but they did not necessarily consume recommended levels of healthy dietary staples, such as fruit, vegetables or whole grains, during the entire five-year span.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about family meals.

-- Kevin McKeever

SOURCE: Elsevier, news release, March 2009

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