Family dinners are overrated, say researchers

Nadine Bells
Shine On
May 30, 2012

New research out of Cornell University is challenging the notion that family dinners are important for healthy childhood development.

While the researchers found that family dinners did help adolescents score better on a range of well-being indicators than their peers who didn't sit down for dinner with their parents, they also found that the benefits weakened over time, and didn't carry over into adulthood.

The study -- to be published in the June issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family -- examined a sample of 18,000 American teens from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health and found that the beneficial effects of family dinners on teen depression, substance abuse and delinquency was not as strong a previously assumed.

Also see: Canada among world's best countries for maternity leave

If anything, the rituals and practices of families with good relationships mattered most. Family dinners on their own did not necessitate well-being.

"We find that most of the association between family meals and teen well-being is due to other aspects of the family environment. Analyses that follow children over time lend even weaker evidence for causal effects of family meals on adolescent and young adult well-being," lead researcher Kelly Musick, Ph.D., says in a press release.

"Dinner tends to be a time where through food you can create a lot of comfort," Musick tells the Globe and Mail. "If what matters is finding a context where you can connect with your kids and build some routine and ritual in which people feel comfortable, you could probably do it some other way. But in this harried world, it would have to be deliberate."

Also see: Parents happier than their childless friends

The researchers hope to expand their study to determine how factors like texting, talking and watching television affect the benefits of family mealtime.

Earlier this month, a study published in the journal Pediatrics claimed that kids who eat with their families at least three times a week were 12 per cent less likely be be overweight. They were also less likely to develop eating disorders.

Watch the video below about an American first grader who survived a stroke.

What to Read Next

VA Mortgage Rates In 2016

VA Rates as Low as 3.25% (3.405% APR) 30 Year Fixed. Exclusive For Veteran & Military Takes 1 Min!

Mortgage rates fall to new low- 3.11% APR

$250,000 for $972/month. No points. Get multiple mortgage offers in minutes. Can't hurt to look. It's free. (3.11% APR 5/1 ARM).

I HATE Annuities…and So Should You!

If you have a $500,000 portfolio, uncover the truth about annuities by reading “Annuity Insights” from Forbes columnist Ken Fisher’s firm.

Install ADT for $9/Week & Get Free Security Camera

Monitor your home with ADT for only $9 per week including a free home security camera system (an $850 value). Get a free quote! ADT Authorized Dealer

Hilton HHonors™ Card

Get 75,000 Hilton HHonors™ Bonus Points! Terms Apply. Offer ends 5/4

Heartburn During Pregnancy

Dealing With Pregnancy is Hard Enough. Getting Heartburn While Pregnant is a Pain. Learn What Causes Heartburn During Pregnancy.