Food and Behaviour Research

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The beneficial effect of family meals on obesity differs by race, sex, and household education: the national survey of children's health, 2003-2004

Rollins BY, Belue RZ, Francis LA (2010) J Am Diet Assoc.  2010 Sep;110(9):  1335-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2010.06.004. 

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Studies have indicated that family meals may be a protective factor for childhood obesity; however, limited evidence is available in children with different racial, socioeconomic, and individual characteristics. The purpose of this study was to examine family meal frequency as a protective factor for obesity in a US-based sample of non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black, and Hispanic children age 6 to 11 years, and to identify individual, familial, and socioeconomic factors that moderate this association.

Data were from the 2003 National Survey of Children's Health (n=16,770). Multinomial logistic regression analyses were used to test the association between family meal frequency and weight status, and the moderating effects of household structure, education, poverty level, and sex, by racial group. Non-Hispanic white children who consumed family meals every day were less likely to be obese than those eating family meals zero or a few days per week. A moderating effect for sex was observed in non-Hispanic black children such that family meal frequency was marginally protective in boys but not in girls. Higher family meal frequency was a marginal risk factor for obesity in Hispanic boys from low-education households, but not in girls from similar households.

In conclusion, family meals seem to be protective of obesity in non-Hispanic white children and non-Hispanic black boys, whereas they may put Hispanic boys living in low-education households at risk. Greater emphasis is needed in future research on assessing why this association differs among different race/ethnic groups, and evaluating the influence of the quality and quantity of family meals on child obesity.