There's no evidence to support the widely held belief that sharing family meals improves children's school performance or reduces their risk of behaviour problems, a new study says.
Researchers looked at more than 21 000 children, aged 5 to 15, and found no relationship between family meals and the children's academic success or behaviour.
"We find no relationship between family breakfasts or family dinners and any child outcomes - reading, maths and science scores, or behaviour problems," study co-author Daniel Miller, an assistant professor at the Boston University School of Social Work, said.
"That didn't change according to the age of the kids or even how we measured family meals: whether it was three meals a week, five meals a week or nine meals a week didn't seem to matter," he added.
What the study showed
Miller and his colleagues were surprised at the findings, which were recently published online in the journal Child Development.
"We would never suggest that families should not eat meals together. The family meal table is an important place for parents and children to interact and communicate. However, it may be that the nature and extent of the influence of family dinners and breakfasts may be different than previously understood," Miller said.
"Families that believe in the importance of eating together might also do lots of other things they feel are good for their kids, like go to the library or be more invested in picking the right schools. But if you just look at the frequency of family meals, that may seem to be causing positive results," he explained.
Shared meals nourish family health
The Nemours Foundation has more about family meals.
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