Purpose: The literature suggests positive associations between family dinner frequency and dietary practices and psychosocial well-being, and inverse associations between family dinner frequency and overweight status among general adolescent populations. The present study aims to examine these associations among a population of adolescents at-risk of academic failure.
Methods: A racially diverse sample of adolescents (n = 145, 52% male, 61% nonwhite) from six alternative high schools (AHS) completed surveys and had their heights and weights measured by trained research staff. Mixed-model logistic regression analyses assessed associations between family dinner frequency and overweight status, healthy and unhealthy weight management, and food insecurity, whereas mixed linear models assessed associations with breakfast consumption, fruit and vegetable consumption, high-fat food intake, fast food intake, substance use, and depressive symptoms. Analyses adjusted for race/ethnicity, age, gender, socioeconomic status, and the random effect of school.
Results: Family dinner frequency was positively associated with breakfast consumption and fruit intake (p < .01 and p < .05, respectively), and inversely associated with depressive symptoms (p < .05). Adolescents who reported never eating family dinner were significantly more likely to be overweight (odds ratio [OR] = 2.8, confidence interval [CI] = 1.1-6.9) and food insecure (OR = 6.0, CI = 2.2-16.4) than adolescents who reported five to seven family meals per week.
Conclusions: In this at-risk sample of youth, some, but not all of the benefits of family meals found in other studies were apparent. Intervention programs to increase the availability and affordability of healthful foods and promote family meals for families of AHS students may be beneficial.