Are family meals as good for youth as we think they are? A review of the literature on family meals as they pertain to adolescent risk prevention

J Youth Adolesc. 2013 Jul;42(7):943-63. doi: 10.1007/s10964-013-9963-z. Epub 2013 May 28.


Regular family meals have been shown to reduce adolescents' engagement in various risk behaviors. In this article, we comprehensively examine the literature to review the association between family meals and eight adolescent risk outcomes: alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and other drugs; aggressive and/or violent behaviors; poor school performance; sexual behavior; mental health problems; and disordered eating patterns. The majority of the studies reviewed found associations in the relationship between family meals and adolescents' risk profiles. More specifically, studies reporting significant associations found that adolescents who frequently ate meals with their family and/or parents were less likely to engage in risk behaviors when compared to peers who never or rarely ate meals with their families. Additionally, the influence of family meal frequency on youth risk outcomes appears to be dependent on gender, with family meals being a protective factor for females and males differently, depending on the outcome examined. However, the studies available about family meals and adolescent risk only examined the effect of family meal frequency, and not other components of family meals that contribute to the protective effect, and, thus, hinder the understanding of the mechanisms unique to family meals' protective characteristics. Regardless of these limitations, the studies examined indicate that family meals may be protective and, therefore, have practical implications for parents, clinicians, and organizations looking to reduce adolescent risk behaviors. However, further examination is needed to better understand the mechanisms that contribute to the protective effect afforded by family meal frequency on adolescents.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Achievement
  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior*
  • Dangerous Behavior*
  • Family Relations*
  • Humans
  • Meals / psychology*
  • Mental Disorders / prevention & control
  • Risk
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Substance-Related Disorders / prevention & control
  • Violence