Kids who eat family meals less depressed

07:00 AEST Fri Nov 11 2011

Researchers have uncovered a surprising new way to help protect kids from depression, drugs and risky sex - get them to the dinner table regularly.

A report commissioned by the Families Commission has found that teenagers who sit down to a shared meal with their family most weeknights are less likely to take risks with drugs, cigarettes, sex and alcohol.

They're also less likely to have suicidal thoughts and they probably have a better relationship with their parents.

The family mealtime ritual is also likely to improve a teen's attitude to food, giving them better nutrition and lower rates of binge-eating and other food-related disorders.

The study, which uses national data collected from more than 9000 high school students, is the first of its kind in New Zealand.

It found:

- About one-third of teenagers share meals with their family seven or more times a week. This group got the greatest protection from risky behaviour, unhealthy foods and mental health issues.

- 40 per cent shared meals between three and six times a week.

- Nearly one quarter shared a meal with their family just twice a week or less. This group was the least protected.

The researchers said it was hard to know if the sit-down meals themselves were improving wellbeing, or whether homes that provided regular meals were also more likely to provide other support to protect children.

Either way however, "it appears that sharing meals together is one characteristic of a healthy family environment," lead author Jennifer Utter, a senior lecturer at Auckland University, said.

User comments
This is not true. We have been eating at the dinner table every single day, always eating meals together, incl breakfast and lunch, even reading the bible before going to bed together as a family, and my 15 year old is a major nightmare, since beginning high school, now 2 years (year9 and 10 to date), in with wrong crowd, sisters do not even want her around, have gone to parents inc on course, been pleading with her to please stop all and follow a better path for her future sake, to no avail, almost breaking up my marriage of 20 years, we now ignore her and wait till she moves out, then we can have normal family, she needs to go bump her head to realise what she has lost, god bless her, I feel sorry for her.

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