a1 Division of Epidemiology & Community Health, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, 1300 South Second Street – Suite 300, Minneapolis, MN 55454, USA
a2 School of Nursing, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA
a3 Pediatrics and Adolescent Health, Department of Pediatrics, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA
Objective The purpose of the present paper is to provide an integrated overview of the research methodology and key findings from a decade of research on family meals as part of Project EAT (Eating Among Teens), a large, population-based study of adolescents.
Design Focus groups conducted with 141 middle-school and high-school adolescents suggested the importance of family meals in influencing adolescents’ food choices. These findings led to the inclusion of questions on family meals in the Project EAT-I survey, completed by 4746 middle-school and high-school students, and in the Project EAT-II longitudinal survey, completed by 2516 of the original participants five years later. A subset of 902 parents also participated in telephone interviews as part of Project EAT-I.
Results Findings indicate that many adolescents and parents view family meals in a positive light, but there is great diversity in the context and frequency of family meal patterns in the homes of adolescents. Findings further suggest that family meals may have benefits in terms of dietary intake, disordered eating behaviours, substance use and psychosocial health.
Conclusions Findings from Project EAT, in conjunction with other research studies on family meals, suggest the importance of working with families to increase the frequency and improve the quality of family meals. Further research is needed in order to elucidate the pathways that underpin the relationships between family meals and health outcomes. Suggestions for a future research agenda based on what was learned from Project EAT are provided.
(Received June 03 2009)
(Accepted January 06 2010)
(Online publication February 10 2010)