Family meals “keep teens sane”
21 January 2002
LONDON By health-newswire.com reporters Shared family meals may be valuable in limiting anxiety and depression in teenagers, a recent study suggests.
A Spanish research team found that teenagers in families where
meals and other activities are shared seem to have fewer mental health problems
than youngsters who dine separately.
The team, led by Dr Elena Compañ from Alicante District Health and Social Services, assessed the family habits and rituals of 82 first-time users of mental health services in a metropolitan area. The participants were aged between 14 and 23, and most were being treated for anxiety and depression.
The team also studied family practices in 177 healthy young people of the same age and from the same area. All participants lived at home with their parents.
Researchers found that a third of the families of those with mental health problems ate dinner separately compared with just over 17 per cent of the families with healthy youngsters.
The amount of television watched was the same in both groups, but the families of healthy young people talked more and went on more excursions, holidays and other activities together.
Writing in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, the team conclude that sharing daily meals is a “unifying ritual” that promotes adolescent mental health. They suggest this ritual compensates for other factors that might cause family members to become distant and stop communicating.
Lesley Warner, of the Mental Health Foundation in the UK, said the results supported the foundation’s own research, which showed that good communication in families was an important factor in ensuring mental well-being in teenagers.
The study also indicated one way in which parents and teenagers who have stopped communicating could start talking again, she said.
“We would recommend that parents take time for their children, and sharing meals may be one way forward,” said Ms Warner. It could be easier to start communicating over a meal than to allot a specific time in which conversation was expected, she said.
Source: Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health
© Health Media Ltd 2002