Past research suggests a positive link between family meals and child and adolescent health. Although researchers have often relied on how often families eat together, this may not capture the complexity of the experience. Using a birth cohort, this study examines the prospective associations between the environmental quality of the family meal experience at age 6 years and child well-being at age 10.
Participants are 1492 children of the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development. When children were age 6, parents reported on their typical family meal environment quality. At age 10, parents, teachers, and children themselves provided information on lifestyle habits, academic achievement, and social adjustment, respectively. The relationship between early family meal environment quality and later child outcomes was analyzed using a series of multivariate linear regression.
Family meal environment quality at age 6 predicted higher levels of general fitness and lower levels of soft drink consumption, physical aggression, oppositional behavior, nonaggressive delinquency, and reactive aggression at age 10. These relationships were adjusted for child characteristics (sex, temperament problems and cognitive abilities, and baseline body mass index [BMI]) and family characteristics (family configuration and functioning, maternal education, depression, and BMI).
From a population-health perspective, our findings suggest that family meals have long-term influences on children's biopsychosocial well-being. At a time when family meal frequency is on a natural decline in the population, this environmental characteristic can become a target of home-based interventions and could be featured in information campaigns that aim to optimize child development.