Press Release – Families Commission
A new study undertaken by the Families Commission Research Fund has shown how taking the time to share a family meal has surprising health and wellbeing benefits for young people in New Zealand.10 November 2011
Teen health and wellbeing – and the simple act of sharing a meal
A new study undertaken by the Families Commission Research Fund has shown how taking the time to share a family meal has surprising health and wellbeing benefits for young people in New Zealand.
Carl Davidson, Families Commission, Chief Commissioner, says “teens who eat frequent meals with their family also report better health, including fewer indicators of depressive mood and fewer risk taking behaviours such as binge drinking, smoking, marijuana use, and inconsistent contraception use.”
He says, “our research has shown that despite busy lifestyles and schedules, families who are able to make the time to eat together will see a number of unexpected benefits – the simple act of sharing food and spending time together seems to be a positive activity for our young people.”
The research, which used data collected from the Youth 07 national survey of 9107 young people from 96 secondary schools, found that approximately one-third of young people in New Zealand shared meals with their families on seven or more occasions in the previous week. An additional 40% of young people shared meals between three and six times. Mr Davidson says, “This really is a unique piece of research – it is the first study of its kind to happen in a New Zealand context”.
Students who had more frequent family meals were more likely to report better family relationships and parental monitoring. In addition students who frequently shared meals were also more likely to report that their mum and dad encouraged them to eat healthy foods including fruits and vegetables.
“We probably all know that eating together is worthwhile, but this research shows that those shared meals aren’t just ‘nice to have’ but are actually a fundamental contributor to family wellbeing. Students who ate more frequently with their family were more likely to report better family connections, relationships and parental monitoring,” says Mr Davidson. “This is a simple activity that families can do to support their adolescents through the transition to adulthood”.
“Families today are complex and it may be hard for some families to always eat together. When families can make the time, the research shows that there are many associated and ongoing benefits. This research is important not only for my family but many families around New Zealand. Making sure that this activity remains enjoyable, affordable and can happen within time constraints is important.”
The report ‘Eating together at mealtimes: the role of family meals in the health and wellbeing of young people in New Zealand’ is available here.
|Frequency:||In total, one-third of secondary schools students shared a meal with their family seven or more times in the previous week|
|Demographic||There were few demographic differences between students who frequently shared meals with their families in the past week. However students who infrequently shared meals with their families were two times more likely to be female, older and reside in high deprivation areas.|
|Household Characteristics||Students living in more than one home are as likely to frequently share meals with their family as students who live primarily in one home. Similarly there are no differences in maternal or paternal employment for students who frequently shared meals. (Participants with an unemployed father were significantly more likely to share meals infrequently than those with employed fathers.)|
|Family Relationships||Students who had more frequent family meals were more likely to report better family relationships and parental monitoring.
In addition these students felt their parents wanted to know details of their lives and that they could talk to their mum or dad about their ‘problems or worries’. (66% for frequent meals versus 52.3% for infrequent meals)
Students who frequently shared meals were also more likely to report that their mum and dad encouraged them to eat healthy food (mum encouraged healthy eating 678% for frequent meals versus 39.9% for infrequent meals, dad encouraged healthy eating 48.3% for frequent meals versus 28.1% for infrequent meals).
|Diet||Students who shared frequent meals are more likely to eat healthier foods (e.g. fruits and veges)|
|Emotional Wellbeing||Students who frequently shared meals reported better indicators of emotional wellbeing overall: the average depressive score was lower and the average wellbeing score was higher.
They were less likely to report thoughts about suicide or attempted suicide within the past year (serious thoughts about suicide – 21.8% for infrequent meals versus 9.6% for frequent meals).
|Risk-taking Behaviour||They were less likely to engage in risk taking behaviour including smoking (24% infrequent meals versus 11% for frequent meals), binge drinking, current marijuana use and inconsistent contraception use.|
Students who took part in the research were able to define their own families, which allowed the study to be as inclusive as it could be to cover the diverse family experiences for New Zealand young people.
The study was conducted by researchers at Auckland University’s School of Population Health under a Families Commission Research Fund grant.