We used meta-analytic methods to examine the frequency of shared family mealtimes in relation to nutritional health in children and adolescents. The primary objective was to determine consistency and strength of effects across 17 studies that examined overweight and obese, food consumption and eating patterns, and disordered eating.
The total sample size for all studies was 182 836 children and adolescents (mean sample age: 2.8–17.3 years). Pooled odds ratios were calculated. A random-effects model was used to estimate all outcomes.
The frequency of shared family meals is significantly related to nutritional health in children and adolescents. Children and adolescents who share family meals 3 or more times per week are more likely to be in a normal weight range and have healthier dietary and eating patterns than those who share fewer than 3 family meals together. In addition, they are less likely to engage in disordered eating.
Educational and public health initiatives aimed at promoting shared family mealtimes may improve nutritional health of children and adolescents. Clinicians may advise their patients about the benefits of sharing 3 or more family mealtimes per week; benefits include a reduction in the odds for overweight (12%), eating unhealthy foods (20%), and disordered eating (35%) and an increase in the odds for eating healthy foods (24%).