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More than six out of ten foreign-born adolescents ages 12 to 17 ate with their families six to seven days a week in 2003, compared with four out of ten adolescents who are native-born with native-born parents. (See Figure 1)
Family meals can be an important opportunity to develop strong parent-child relationships and family connectedness.1 As children grow older and become more independent during adolescence, however, they tend to spend less time with the family and eat more meals away from the home. Teens cite reasons such as a desire for autonomy, conflicting schedules, a dislike of the food served, and dissatisfaction with family relations, while parents cite conflicting schedules and being busy.2
Like other forms of parental involvement, research shows a positive relationship between frequent family dinners and positive teen behavioral outcomes. Teens who regularly have meals with their family are less likely to get into fights, think about suicide, smoke, drink, use drugs, and are more likely to have later initiation of sexual activity, and better academic performance than teens who do not.3,4 Even after controlling for family connectedness,5 more frequent family meals have been found to be associated with less substance use, fewer depressive symptoms, and less suicide involvement, and with better grades.6
Eating with parents is also an important factor for the nutrition and eating habits of adolescents, with research showing that family meals and parental presence at meals is associated with higher intake of fruits, vegetables, and dairy products.7 In addition, family mealtimes may influence whether an adolescent develops disordered eating. One study found that adolescents who reported frequent and structured family meals and a positive atmosphere at family meals were less likely to have disordered eating habits, with the association being stronger for girls.8
In 2003, 42 percent of adolescents ages 12 to 17 ate a meal as a family six to seven days a week, 27 percent ate a meal as a family four to five days a week, and 31 percent ate meals as a family zero to three days a week. (See Table 1) Trend data are not available.
Among children ages 6 to 11, 56 percent ate a meal as a family six to seven days a week, 25 percent ate a meal as a family 4 to 5 days a week, and 20 percent ate a meal as a family zero to three days a week. (See Table 2) Trend data are not available.
Differences by Race and Ethnicity
Hispanic adolescents ages 12 to 17 are more likely than non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic black adolescents to eat meals six to seven days a week together with their families. (See Figure 2) In 2003, 54 percent of Hispanic adolescents ate meals six to seven days a week with their family, compared with 40 percent of non-Hispanic black adolescents and 39 percent of non-Hispanic white adolescents.
Among children ages 6 to 11, Hispanic children are also more likely than non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic black children to eat family meals six to seven days a week. In 2003, 66 percent of Hispanic children in this age group ate meals six to seven days a week with their family, compared with 50 percent of non-Hispanic black children and 53 percent of non-Hispanic white children. (See Table 2)
Differences by Nativity
Foreign-born adolescents are more likely than native born adolescents with native born parents to eat family meals together regularly (62 percent versus 40 percent, respectively, in 2003). (See Figure 1)
Differences by Age
Older adolescents are less likely than younger adolescents and children to eat meals six to seven days a week with their family. In 2003, 36 percent of adolescents ages 15 to 17 ate six to seven meals a week with their family, compared with 48 percent of adolescents ages 12 to 14 and 56 percent of children ages 6 to 11. (See Table 1 and Table 2)
Differences by Poverty Level
Adolescents living at less than 100 percent of the poverty level are more likely than others to eat meals six to seven days a week together as a family. Fifty-five percent of those living at 100 percent of the poverty level ate meals six to seven days a week together, compared with 44 percent of those living at 100 to 200 percent of the poverty level and 37 percent of those living at 200 percent or more of the poverty level. (See Figure 3)
Differences by Parental Education
Adolescents whose parents have less than a high school degree are more likely than those with parents who have a high school degree or more than a high school degree to eat meals six to seven days a week with their family (61 percent versus 46 percent and 39 percent, respectively, in 2003). (See Table 1)
2003 state estimates for number of days family members in a household ate a meal together are available through the National Survey of Children's Health at http://nschdata.org/DesktopDefault.aspx (Select Family Health and Activities under Child Health Measures)
None available at this time.
1U.S. Council of Economic Advisors. (2000). "Teens and their parents in the 21st century: an examination of trends in teen behavior and the role of parental involvement". Council of Economic Advisors White Paper. Accessed 8/20/05. http://clinton3.nara.gov/WH/EOP/CEA/html/Teens_Paper_Final.pdf
2Neumark-Sztainer D, Story M, Ackard D, et al. (2000). "The "family meal": Views of adolescents." Journal of Nutrition Education, 32:329-34.
3U.S. Council of Economic Advisors. (2000).
4National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. (2003). "The Importance of Family Dinners." Available at http://www.casacolumbia.org/Absolutenm/articlefiles/Family_Dinners_9_03_03.pdf.
5Family connectedness was measured by the following questions: "How much do you feel your [mother, father] cares about you?" and "Do you feel you can talk to your [mother, father] about your problems?"
6Eisenberg, Marla E., Neumark-Sztainer, Dianne, and Linda H. Bearinger. (2004. "Correlations Between Family Meals and Psychological Well-being Among Adolescents." Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 158(8).
7Videon, Tami M., and Manning, Carolyn, K. (2003). "Influences on Adolescent Eating Patterns: The Importance of Family Meals." Journal of Adolescent Health, 32:365-373.
8Neumark-Sztainer, Dianne, Wall, Melanie, Story, Mary, Fulkerson, Jayne A. (2004). "Are Family Meal Patterns Associated with Disordered Eating Behaviors Among Adolescents?" Journal of Adolescent Health, 35(5):350-359.
This indicator is based on the question, "During the past week, on how many days did all the family members who live in the household eat a meal together?"
Child Trends' original analyses of data from the 2003 National Survey of Children's Health.
Raw Data Source
National Survey of Children's Health
Approximate Date of Next Update