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Family breakfast is important, too.

photo courtesy whiteafrican via Flickr

It’s been said that family dinner is important, but what about family breakfast?

New research from the University of Minnesota has found that families who eat breakfast together may be positively influencing their teen’s food choices and weight-related health.

The latest study examined a diverse group of teens to learn about the practice of eating breakfast together as a family and connections with diet and weight status.

The study, appearing in the latest edition of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, was led by Nicole Larson, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D.N. of the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health, who partnered with fellow University of Minnesota researchers Rich MacLehose, Ph.D., Jayne Fulkerson, Ph.D., Jerica Berge, Ph.D., M.P.H., L.M.F.T., Mary Story, Ph.D., R.D., and Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D.

“There are a growing number of studies that indicate teens who frequently share meals with their families have more nutritious diets and are more likely to maintain a healthy weight,” said Larson. “A question being asked is whether it matters if families eat together in the evening versus other times of the day? We set out to answer that question.”

The researchers reviewed data from the EAT 2010 (Eating and Activity in Teens) study, which examined dietary intake, physical activity, weight control behaviors, and weight status among 2,793 teens in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Teens participating in the study represented their racially/ethnically and socioeconomically diverse communities with 81% reporting a background other than non-Hispanic white and 71% qualifying for free or reduced-price school meals.

On average, teens reported that “all or most” of their family members ate breakfast together 1-2 times in the past week and ate dinner together 4-5 times in the past week. The majority of the teens reported eating dinner with their family at least three to six times a week while only one in five teens reported eating breakfast with their family this often.

“After accounting for sociodemographic differences, family dinner frequency, and measures of overall family functioning and cohesiveness, we found that eating breakfast as a family was related to several markers of a healthier diet, including more fruit, whole grains, and fiber,” said Larson.

“We also found that eating breakfast as a family was linked to lower rates of overweight and obesity,” said Larson. “The proportion of teens that were overweight or obese was 44% among those who never had family breakfast meals in contrast to 33% among those who ate breakfast with their families daily.”

Larson and her coauthors hope their findings will encourage communities to support families in eating together.  Parents and teens need support to overcome challenges to eating together, including different schedules, lack of time and skills to prepare meals, and limited resources for purchasing food for their household.

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