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26 March 2013

Family meals nourish teens' mental health

Dinners with parents may improve behavior and well-being, study finds.

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Having regular family suppers is good for teens' mental health, according to a new study.

This is true whether or not youngsters feel they can easily talk to their parents.

For their study, the researchers examined data from about 26 000 adolescents, aged 11 to 15, who took part in a 2010 study on health behaviours in school-aged children in Canada.

"More frequent family dinners related to fewer emotional and behavioural problems, greater emotional well-being, more trusting and helpful behaviours towards others and higher life satisfaction," study co-author Frank Elgar, of McGill University in Montreal, said in a university news release.

The positive effects of family mealtime were the same regardless of gender, age or family income, according to the study.

"We were surprised to find such consistent effects on every outcome we studied," Elgar said. "From having no dinners together to eating together seven nights a week, each additional dinner related to significantly better mental health."

The researchers said family mealtimes are opportunities for open family exchanges, and allow parents to teach children about positive coping and health behaviours, and adolescents to voice their concerns and feel valued - all of which help promote good mental health.

The new research uncovered an association between family meals and teens' emotional well-being. It did not prove a cause-and-effect connection.

More information

The US National Institute of Mental Health has more about child and adolescent mental health.

 
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