A descriptive examination of international family/shared meals: Prevalence, meal types, media at meals, and emotional well-being

Fam Syst Health. 2024 Mar 7. doi: 10.1037/fsh0000874. Online ahead of print.


Introduction: Studies in the United States have shown associations between family/shared meal frequency and child health and well-being. Less is known about family/shared meal characteristics (e.g., frequency, meal type, meal activities) in adults and international samples and whether there are protective associations between family/shared meal frequency and emotional well-being. Also unknown, is whether family meals provide protective associations for other family members in the household.

Method: In a 2022 cross-sectional study, an online survey was administered in the United States, Italy, and Germany. One adult respondent (49.5% female; Mage = 45.6) from each household (n = 1,983) reported on family/shared meals and well-being. A second family member (e.g., partner, child) responded in a subset of households (n = 1,915). Descriptive statistics by country, Spearman correlations between meal frequency and well-being, and Kruskal-Wallis comparisons of mood indicators across countries were run.

Results: The majority of adults across countries engaged in six or more family/shared meals per week, with more meals on weekends. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner family/shared meals were more common on weekends, and European countries reported engaging in a higher prevalence of all meal types. Higher frequency of family/shared meals was significantly correlated with fewer depressive symptoms, more connectedness, and higher levels of happiness in adults across countries and in a second household member.

Discussion: Family/shared meals were beneficial across an international sample and may provide protective spillover effects for multiple household members. Clinicians and researchers who work with families may want to consider assessing for and intervening on family meal frequency. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2024 APA, all rights reserved).

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