Objective: To examine 5-year longitudinal associations between family meal frequency and disordered eating behaviors in adolescents.
Design: Longitudinal study.
Setting: Participants from 31 Minnesota schools completed in-class assessments in 1999 (time 1) and mailed surveys in 2004 (time 2).
Participants: Adolescents (N=2516) who completed Project EAT (Eating Among Teens)-I (time 1) and -II (time 2) assessments.
Main outcome measures: Time 1 family meal frequency and time 2 disordered eating behaviors, including extreme weight control behaviors (self-induced vomiting and use of laxatives, diet pills, or diuretics), less extreme unhealthy weight control behaviors (eating very little, fasting, using food substitutes, skipping meals, or smoking), binge eating, and chronic dieting.
Results: Among adolescent girls, time 1 regular family meals (> or = 5 meals/wk) were associated with lower prevalences of time 2 extreme weight control behaviors (odds ratio, 0.71; 95% confidence interval, 0.52-0.97), even after adjusting for sociodemographic characteristics, body mass index, family connectedness, parental encouragement to diet, and extreme weight control behaviors at time 1. Associations with other disordered eating behaviors were also suggestive of a protective effect of family meals in unadjusted analyses but were not statistically significant in adjusted analyses. Among adolescent boys, regular family meals did not predict lower levels of disordered eating behaviors.
Conclusions: The high prevalence of disordered eating behaviors among adolescent girls and the protective role of family meals suggest a need for interventions aimed at promoting family meals. Further exploration of predictors of disordered eating behaviors in adolescent boys and the role of family meals is warranted.