Couples and other adult family members living without minors in the house are just as likely as adults living with young children or adolescents to eat family meals at home on most days of the week, new research suggests.
The study is the first large-scale look at family-meal eating patterns in American adults. While a substantial amount of research has focused on health benefits for children who regularly eat family meals, such eating patterns have not been widely studied in adult-only households.
“There are a lot of families that don’t have children. And we’ve forgotten about them in this context of thinking about sharing food and time together and what that means,” said Ms. Rachel Tumin, a doctoral student in epidemiology at The Ohio State University and lead author of the study.
Researchers analyzed data on more than 14,000 Ohio adults, comparing family-meal patterns among adults who lived with minor children to households with at least two adult family members and no children under age 19 living with them. In both types of households, about half of the families ate meals together six or seven days per week.
Ms. Tumin conducted the research with senior author Dr. Sarah Anderson, associate professor of epidemiology at Ohio State.
“Most people value family meals and engage in this behavior. The prevalence of never eating family meals or eating together only once a week is low,” Anderson said. “We thought the distribution would be different, and we hypothesized that adults with children would be much more likely to eat together as a family. The data showed otherwise. If further research finds associations between higher frequency of family meals and improved health outcomes for adults that will have implications for public health messages.”
The finding is a first step toward exploring whether adults who eat frequent family meals also experience health benefits. Previous research has suggested that children and adolescents who eat frequent family meals have healthier diets and are less likely to report eating disorders, substance use, and depressive symptoms.
“If all adults eat frequent family meals, then it’s worth thinking of them as a holistic group versus maintaining a more narrow focus on just those adults who have minor children living with them,” Ms. Tumin said. “If the answer had been that adults with no kids at home never eat family meals, then there would be no point in subsequent research to find out if it’s good for them. But with these data, we can bring this whole other group along with us in our thinking as we shift to exploring in what ways family meals are beneficial to overall public health.”
The study is published in the journal Public Health Nutrition. Read more: http://news.osu.edu/news/2014/09/19/even-without-kids-couples-eat-frequent-family-meals/