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Associations Between Early Family Meal Environment Quality and Later Well-Being in School-Age Children

Harbec, Marie-Josée MSc; Pagani, Linda S. PhD

Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics: February/March 2018 - Volume 39 - Issue 2 - p 136–143
doi: 10.1097/DBP.0000000000000520
Original Articles

Objective: 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.

Methods: 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.

Results: 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).

Conclusion: 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.

This article has supplementary material on the web site: www.jdbp.org.

School of Psychoeducation and Sainte-Justine's Hospital Research Center (Brain Diseases Division), Université de Montréal, Montréal, QC, Canada.

Address for reprints: Linda S. Pagani, PhD, École de psychoéducation, Université de Montréal, C.P. 6128, succursale Centre-ville, Montréal, QC H3C 3J7, Canada; e-mail: linda.s.pagani@umontreal.ca.

Disclosure: The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Supplemental digital content is available for this article. Direct URL citations appear in the printed text and are provided in the HTML and PDF versions of this article on the journal's Web site (www.jdbp.org).

Received May , 2017

Accepted September , 2017

Copyright © 2018 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.