Background: Previous research has documented the positive effects of family meals on the dietary quality of adolescents. The objective of the current study is to examine associations between frequency of family meals and body mass index (BMI), other aspects of the home food environment, and related nutrition behaviors.
Methods: Data were collected during baseline measurements of the Pacific Obesity Prevention In Communities study. In total, 3245 ethnically diverse students completed a questionnaire about their nutrition behaviors and were weighed and measured for height.
Results: In total, 42% of adolescents ate a family meal on all of the previous five school nights. Frequency of family meals was modestly associated with BMI in bivariate analysis (p = 0.045), but lost significance when demographic characteristics were included in the model. Frequency of family meals was associated with many positive aspects of home food environment and positive nutrition behaviors, including parental support for healthy eating, limits on television use, having fruit available at home, consuming five fruits and vegetables a day, eating breakfast, and bringing lunch from home. Surprisingly, no relationships were observed between frequency of family meals and accessibility and consumption of many high fat/high sugar foods.
Conclusion: Our findings suggest that the positive effect of family meals may reflect an overall positive home food environment. Families who have meals together have more healthful foods available at home and support their child in eating healthfully. There were no relationships between family meals and high fat/high sugar foods; this suggest that while families may prioritize eating together, messages about limiting the availability and consumption of these snack foods are not getting through.