Jeremy Olson writes about children and families, and is an overscheduled father of two. His blog tackles the best and worst of parenting, families, health and love. He wants to hear from you - what's going on in your house?
Researchers at the University of Minnesota compared survey data from 1999 and 2010, and were dismayed to find a decline in the number of family dinners among youth from low-income households in the Twin Cities.
A new study by the U's Project EAT team found that the frequency of family dinners held relatively steady over the past decade, and increased for youth from high-income households. There were modest declines in family dinners among certain adolescent subgroups, among them girls, middle-school students and Asians. But it was the decline in dinners among adolscents from low-income families that drew the most worry.
The comparison of survey results showed a decline in weekly dinners from 4.0 in 1999 to 3.6 in 2010 for low-income youth. And the rate of low-income youth eating five or more family dinners each week decreased from 46.9% to 38.8%
The concern is that low-income youth are already at greater risk of poor health outcomes due to their economic status. A decline in family dinners could only worsen matters. Frequent family meals have been linked to "better dietary intake, fewer eating disorders, higher levels of psychological well-being and greater academic success,” said Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, a professor within the U of M School of Public Health and the director of Project EAT research.
“Family meals protect teens from various health-related problems,” she said. “We need to work hard to ensure that messages regarding the importance of family meals, and interventions aimed at facilitating family meals, reach high-risk families in these low socioeconomic groups.”