Findings on the relationship between family meal frequency and children's nutritional health are inconsistent. The reasons for these mixed results have to date remained largely unexplored. This systematic review and meta-analysis of 57 studies (203,706 participants) examines (i) the relationship between family meal frequency and various nutritional health outcomes and (ii) two potential explanations for the inconsistent findings: sociodemographic characteristics and mealtime characteristics. Separate meta-analyses revealed significant associations between higher family meal frequency and better overall diet quality (r = 0.13), more healthy diet (r = 0.10), less unhealthy diet (r = -0.04) and lower body mass index, BMI (r = -0.05). Child's age, country, number of family members present at meals and meal type (i.e. breakfast, lunch or dinner) did not moderate the relationship of meal frequency with healthy diet, unhealthy diet or BMI. Socioeconomic status only moderated the relationship with BMI. The findings show a significant relationship between frequent family meals and better nutritional health - in younger and older children, across countries and socioeconomic groups, and for meals taken with the whole family vs. one parent. Building on these findings, research can now target the causal direction of the relationship between family meal frequency and nutritional health.
Keywords: Body mass index; children; diet; family meal.
© 2018 World Obesity Federation.