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Even when families have problems, eating together can improve teenage diets


A teenager whose family is eating dinner is more likely to make healthy choices, even when children and parents have problems with communication and emotional connection, a new study finds.

Familiar more frequent events have been associated with healthier drinking among adolescents and young adults, even when families were not particularly close and had difficulty managing daily routines, researchers at JAMA Network Open reported.

"The most important thing is that, beyond family functioning, family meals still matter when you think of food intake for adolescents," said study lead author Kathryn Walton, a student at the University of Guelph, Canada. she did the research.

"Many studies have looked at the benefits of family meals and found that this leads to adolescents who eat more fruits and vegetables and less fast food and sugar-sweetened drinks," said Walton, now a researcher at the Children's Hospital sick people from Toronto.

"Critics have suggested that family dysfunction can interrupt the benefits of family meals because it could be harder for poor families to organize and prepare meals or have healthy food available in the home …"

Walton and her colleagues analyzed data about adolescent and adolescent male and female adults who participated in the long-term study of health care. Walton's team included data on 2728 young people between the ages of 14 and 24 who lived with their parents in 2011.

Family functioning was measured by a series of nine statements that were to be evaluated on a 4-point scale, including: Individuals are accepted for who they are; I feel like I can talk about my problems or share a problem; I feel like I've been heard in my family.

The researchers found that teenagers and young adults had dinner with their parents, their diets included more fruits and vegetables and less fast food and sweet drinks.

Differences in healthy food consumption were small but statistically significant.

The important question left, Walton said, is how to get more families to share meals. She has provided some tips to help this happen. First, families who do not eat together can start small, with only one meal per week. "Then you can count on that success."

It can also be easier to arrange if parents do not exert too much pressure to make dinner a "big adventure," Walton said. "It may be easier to take a salad bag and use frozen vegetables that are as healthy as fresh ones."

Another strategy: assign preparatory tasks for teenage meals. "This is particularly important in families that are very busy," Walton said. "Many hands make work easier. There is also the added benefit of learning important food preparation skills."

"It is very exciting to hear more evidence that eating together, along with rising risky behaviors and improving mental health issues such as depression, can also benefit from overall health," said Dr. Mara Minguez of NewYork-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, who was not involved in the study.

The only warning, Minguez said, is that the study was conducted in a mostly white and educated population. "I work in New York City, where there are a lot of different cultures and I wonder if the results can be generalized."

Many of the poorer families may have difficulty managing evening meals, as parents often work late, Minguez said. Here comes a compromise. "A family can eat later, perhaps even at 8 or 9," said Minguez. "It's just a matter of understanding why this is so important."

"I like the idea of ​​a simple thing for families to implement, which has a substantial impact on health," said Dr. Tammy Brady of Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, who was not involved in the study.

It would be nice to see similar research in a more diverse population, Brady said, but for the time being, the researchers have shown that the role of family functionality is not so important.

SOURCE: JAMA Network Open, online, November 21, 2018.

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