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Happy and healthy: How family mealtime routines relate to child nutritional health

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Abstract

Children eat most of their meals in a family context, making family meals a key environment in which to learn about healthy food. What makes a family meal “healthy”? This diary study examined the practice of seven family mealtime routines (e.g., positive mealtime atmosphere, parental modeling, and longer meal duration) and their predictive value for children's healthier nutrition focusing on everyday family meal settings. Over 7 consecutive days, parents from N = 310 families (Mage = 42 years) described their most important family meal of the day and food intake for an index child (Mage = 9 years) and indicated what mealtime routines were practiced during the family meal. On average, each parent responded to 5.6 (SD = 1.4) of seven daily surveys. Mean correlations between mealtime routines were small (rs between −0.14 and 0.25), suggesting independent and distinct routines. Creating a positive atmosphere and turning TV and smartphones off were reported most often (on average, 91.2% and 90.5%, respectively). Parent's fruit and vegetable intake and creating a positive mealtime atmosphere were the strongest predictors for children's higher nutritional quality (i.e., higher vegetable and fruit intake; ps < .001). Findings indicate that mealtime routines obtained from independent meta-analyses represent distinct routines. Families practiced these independent and distinct routines to different degrees. Parental modeling and a positive mealtime atmosphere were most predictive of healthier child nutrition in daily family meal settings. More experimental research is needed to better understand causality and provide a better basis for effective interventions.

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Article
The current study examined how African American fathers' dietary practices were associated with their children's dietary consumption. The sample consisted of one hundred and two African American fathers, who had children between the ages of three and thirteen. The fathers provided self-reports of their consumption of fruits, vegetables, and sugar sweetened beverages; modeling of healthy eating; household availability of foods and beverages; and their children's previously mentioned consumption. Sweetened beverages are considered to be any beverage that contains added sweeteners, high-fructose corn syrup, and/or fruit juice concentrates. Paternal modeling and household availability of food and beverages were measured using subscales from the Comprehensive Feeding Practices Questionnaire (CFPQ). Three separate hierarchical regressions were performed to reveal that child fruit and vegetable consumption was only predicted by parental intake. Child sweetened beverage consumption, however, was predicted by paternal intake and household availability. Modeling did not significantly predict children's consumption of fruits, vegetables, or sweetened beverages. The findings suggest that paternal intake of fruits, vegetables, and sweetened beverages predicts child consumption of fruits, vegetables, and sweetened beverages. Family efforts should be made toward increasing father's consumption of healthy foods while decreasing the consumption and availability of sweetened beverages. Copyright © 2014. Published by Elsevier Ltd.
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Media naturalness theory and social information processing theory make competing predictions regarding the effectiveness of different modes of communication at creating and maintaining emotionally intense social relationships. We explored how the duration of interaction and the form of laughter influenced happiness in communication modes with different levels of media naturalness. Forty-one participants completed a 14-day contact diary, recording interactions across face-to-face, Skype, telephone, instant messaging, texting, and e-mail/social network sites. Increases in duration of interaction positively predicted happiness only for face-to-face interactions, offering partial support for the media naturalness hypothesis. Laughter positively predicted happiness in all but one of the communication modes, with real and symbolic laughter having similar effects, a result consistent with the social information processing theory. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Article
We examined the frequency of adolescents' use of electronic media (ie, television/movie watching, text messaging, talking on the telephone, listening to music with headphones, and playing with hand-held games) at family meals and examined associations with demographic characteristics, rules about media use, family characteristics, and the types of foods served at meals using an observational, cross-sectional design. Data were drawn from two coordinated, population-based studies of adolescents (Project Eating Among Teens 2010) and their parents (Project Families and Eating Among Teens). Surveys were completed during 2009-2010. Frequent television/movie watching during family meals by youth was reported by 25.5% of parents. Multivariate logistic regression analyses indicated significantly higher odds of mealtime media use (P<0.05) for girls and older teens. In addition, higher odds of mealtime media use (P<0.05) were also seen among those whose parents had low education levels or were black or Asian; having parental rules about media use significantly reduced these odds. Frequent mealtime media use was significantly associated with lower scores on family communication (P<0.05) and scores indicating less importance placed on mealtimes (P<0.001). Furthermore, frequent mealtime media use was associated with lower odds of serving green salad, fruit, vegetables, 100% juice, and milk at meals, whereas higher odds were seen for serving sugar-sweetened beverages (P<0.05). The ubiquitous use of mealtime media by adolescents and differences by sex, race/ethnicity, age, and parental rules suggest that supporting parents in their efforts to initiate and follow-through on setting mealtime media use rules may be an important public health strategy.
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The general consensus in the research to date is that family meals are linked to healthier eating habits in children, compared to not eating with the family. Yet, few studies explore what it is about commensality which leads to better food choices among children. Using a representative Scottish sample of five-year-old children, this research explores the extent to which family meal occurrence, meal patterns regarding where, when and with whom children eat and perceived meal enjoyment predict the quality of children's diets after controlling for indicators of maternal capital that influence both meal rituals and taste preferences. Eating the same food as parents is the aspect of family meals most strongly linked to better diets in children, highlighting the detrimental effect in the rise of 'children's food'. Although theoretical and empirical work pointed to the important health advantage in children eating together with parents, the results suggested that eating together was a far less important aspect of family meals. In evaluating the importance of the family meal, this article redirects attention away from issues of form and function towards issues of food choice. Policy implications and the importance for public health to recognise the way eating habits are defined by and reproduce social and cultural capital are discussed.
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Objective: To examine the association between frequency of assisting with home meal preparation and fruit and vegetable preference and self-efficacy for making healthier food choices among grade 5 children in Alberta, Canada. Design: A cross-sectional survey design was used. Children were asked how often they helped prepare food at home and rated their preference for twelve fruits and vegetables on a 3-point Likert-type scale. Self-efficacy was measured with six items on a 4-point Likert-type scale asking children their level of confidence in selecting and eating healthy foods at home and at school. Setting: Schools (n =151) located in Alberta, Canada. Subjects: Grade 5 students (n = 3398). Results: A large majority (83-93 %) of the study children reported helping in home meal preparation at least once monthly. Higher frequency of helping prepare and cook food at home was associated with higher fruit and vegetable preference and with higher self-efficacy for selecting and eating healthy foods. Conclusions: Encouraging children to be more involved in home meal preparation could be an effective health promotion strategy. These findings suggest that the incorporation of activities teaching children how to prepare simple and healthy meals in health promotion programmes could potentially lead to improvement in dietary habits.
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Research has documented an association between family mealtimes and higher dietary quality in school-aged children and adolescents. However, there is little understanding of the specific characteristics of mealtimes that are beneficial and a lack of research with preschool-aged children. This cross-sectional study conducted in the United Kingdom in 2008 examined associations between mealtime characteristics and preschoolers' vegetable consumption and liking. Four hundred and thirty-four primary caregivers of children aged 2 to 5 years reported on children's vegetable intake and liking and completed a questionnaire on frequency of family meals, food preparation, and the social and environmental context of family mealtimes. Univariate and multiple linear regression analyses assessed mealtime variables and children's vegetable intake and liking. Multiple regression analysis revealed children's vegetable consumption was predicted by eating approximately the same food as their parents (β=.14; P ≤ 0.01), using ready-made sauces (β=-.12; P ≤ 0.05), and cooking from scratch (β=.11; P ≤ 0.05), accounting for 21% of the variance (with covariates). Children's liking for vegetables was predicted by eating approximately the same food as their parents (β=.15; P ≤ 0.01) and use of preprepared dishes (β=-.15; P ≤ 0.01), accounting for 8% of the variance (with covariates). Frequency of family mealtimes was unrelated to children's vegetable consumption or liking in this sample. This contrasts with findings in older children and adolescents, where frequency of family mealtimes is related to dietary quality and intake. In preschool-aged children, it seems emphasis should be placed on encouraging parents to provide home-cooked meals that mirror those eaten by the adults in the family to improve vegetable intake.
Article
To examine maternal demographic characteristics and depressive symptoms as predictors of TV viewing during mealtimes, and to investigate how mealtime TV viewing predicts mothers' and toddlers' food consumption. A prospective, cross-sectional survey design was employed with 199 African American and 200 Caucasian, low-income, mother-toddler dyads enrolled in eight Early Head Start programs in a Midwestern state. Mothers completed the Toddler-Parent Mealtime Behavior Questionnaire to assess toddler mealtime behavior. Data were analyzed using a three-step multiple regression: (a) step one was to determine what characteristics predicted family TV viewing during mealtime; (b) step two was to determine whether TV viewing during mealtime predicted maternal food consumption, and (c) step three was to determine whether TV viewing during mealtime predicted toddler food consumption. Direct and indirect effects of TV watching were explored via path models. Maternal race, education, and depressive symptoms predicted 8% of the variance in TV viewing during mealtime (P < or = 0.001). African American mothers and mothers who had fewer years of schooling and exhibited more depressive symptoms tended to watch more TV during mealtime. More TV viewing during mealtime predicted mothers' intake of 'more' unhealthy foods. Mothers' food consumption was the single best predictor of toddlers' food consumption, while TV viewing during mealtime had an indirect effect through mothers' TV viewing. TV viewing practices affect mothers' food consumption and mealtime behaviors; this, in turn, impacts toddlers' food consumption. Practical interventions are needed to positively influence the nutritional habits of lower-income mothers. Reducing mothers' "unhealthy" food consumption while watching TV may offer one effective strategy.
Article
The effect of the number of others present on the amount of food eaten was investigated in the Netherlands by studying spontaneous meal size in 50 free-living young males and females. Subjects recorded food consumption, number of others present, hunger, taste of the food, food availability, and atmosphere at each eating or drinking moment for four (n = 30) or seven consecutive days (n = 20). The results of the study with four and the study with seven recording days were comparable. The mean Pearson within-person correlation coefficient between the number of other present and meal size was 0.24 (n = 50, p < 0.05). This correlation was significant for breakfast (0.40, p < 0.05) and snacks (0.18, p < 0.05), but not for lunch (r = 0.19, p > 0.05) and dinner (r = 0.15, p > 0.05). A path analysis showed no direct effect of the number of others on meal size, but revealed that social facilitation of spontaneous meal size was mediated by meal duration.
Article
Measures of parents' feeding practices have focused primarily on parental control of feeding and have not sufficiently measured other potentially important practices. The current study validates a new measure of feeding practices, the Comprehensive Feeding Practices Questionnaire (CFPQ). The first study validated a 9-factor feeding practice scale for mothers and fathers. In the second study, open-ended questions solicited feeding practices from parents to develop a more comprehensive measure of parental feeding. The third study validated an expanded 12-factor feeding practices measure with mothers of children from 2 to 8 years of age. The CFPQ appears to be an adequate tool for measuring the feeding practices of parents of young children. Researchers, clinicians, and health educators might use this measure to better understand how parents feed their children, the factors that contribute to these practices, and the implications of these practices on children's eating behaviors.
Article
Cross-sectional research in adolescents has found that eating family meals is associated with better nutritional intake. To describe meal patterns of young adults and determine if family meal frequency during adolescence is associated with diet quality, meal frequency, social eating, and meal structure during young adulthood. Population-based, 5-year longitudinal study in Minnesota. Surveys and food frequency questionnaires were completed by 946 female students and 764 male students in high school classrooms at Time 1 (1998-1999; mean age 15.9 years) and by mail at Time 2 (2003-2004; mean age 20.4 years). Multiple linear regression models were used to predict mean levels of young adult outcomes from adolescent family meal frequency. Probability testing of trends in each outcome across ordered categories of family meal frequency used linear contrasts. Family meal frequency during adolescence predicted higher intakes of fruit (P<0.05), vegetables (P<0.01), dark-green and orange vegetables (P=0.001), and key nutrients and lower intakes of soft drinks (P<0.05) during young adulthood. Frequency of family meals also predicted more breakfast meals (P<0.01) in females and for both sexes predicted more frequent dinner meals (P<0.05), higher priority for meal structure (P<0.001), and higher priority for social eating (P<0.001). Associations between Time 1 family meals and Time 2 dietary outcomes were attenuated with adjustment for Time 1 outcomes but several associations were still statistically significant. Family meals during adolescence may have a lasting positive influence on dietary quality and meal patterns in young adulthood.
Prevalence and temporal trends of shared family meals in Germany. Results from EsKiMo II
  • Frank
Longer meal duration increases healthy eating in children. An experimental study
  • M Dallacker
  • J Mata
  • R Hertwig
Dallacker, M., Mata, J., & Hertwig, R. (2017). Longer meal duration increases healthy eating in children. An experimental study. Padua: EHPS.
Prevalence and temporal trends of shared family meals in Germany. Results from EsKiMo II
  • M Frank
  • A.-K Brettschneider
  • C Barbosa
  • G B Mensink
Frank, M., Brettschneider, A.-K., Lage Barbosa, C., & Mensink, G. B. (2019). Prevalence and temporal trends of shared family meals in Germany. Results from EsKiMo II. Ernahrungs Umschau, 66(4), 60-67. https://doi.org/10.4455/eu.2019.013
Referenzperzentile für anthropometrische Maßzahlen und Blutdruck aus der Studie zur Gesundheit von Kindern und Jugendlichen in Deutschland (KiGGS)
  • H Neuhauser
  • A Schienkiewitz
  • A S Rosario
  • R Dortschy
  • B.-M Kurth
Neuhauser, H., Schienkiewitz, A., Rosario, A. S., Dortschy, R., & Kurth, B.-M. (2013). Referenzperzentile für anthropometrische Maßzahlen und Blutdruck aus der Studie zur Gesundheit von Kindern und Jugendlichen in Deutschland (KiGGS). Robert Koch Institute. https://doi.org/10.25646/3179
ggplot2: Create elegant data visualisations using the grammar of graphics
  • H Wickham
  • W Chang
  • L Henry
  • T L Pedersen
  • K Takahashi
  • C Wilke
  • K Woo
  • H Yutani
  • D Dunnington
  • Rstudio
Wickham, H., Chang, W., Henry, L., Pedersen, T. L., Takahashi, K., Wilke, C., Woo, K., Yutani, H., Dunnington, D., & RStudio. (2021). ggplot2: Create elegant data visualisations using the grammar of graphics, 3.3.4) [Computer software] https://CR AN.R-project.org/package=ggplot2.