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.”