Family Mealtime Reduces Eating Disorders in Teens

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Taking time out of the day and eating regular meals with the family may reduce the risk of eating disorders in teenagers. After a five year evaluation, teenage girls were 29% less likely to suffer from eating disorders, such as purging, binge eating, or using diuretics, than their peers when they ate most of their meals with family throughout the week. Among teenage boys, family meals seemed to have little effect on the presence or absence of eating disorders.

Health care providers play an important role in reinforcing the importance of family meal time. According to Dr. Neumark-Sztainer, “Without being judgmental, providers can help families set realistic goals and come up with creative ways to increase frequency of meals together.” The following is an excerpt of an article from Medpage Today that reviews the study:

The prospective findings add to a growing body of literature suggesting family meals play an important role in the health and well-being of adolescent girls.
“Health care professionals have an important role to play in reinforcing the benefits of family meals,” they said.

Without being judgmental, providers can help families set realistic goals and come up with creative ways to increase frequency of meals together, Dr. Neumark-Sztainer added.

“This may be eating breakfast together if dinner doesn’t work,” she suggested. “It can be challenging, I just think we have to put it up there with our priorities.”

The researchers’ Project EAT (Eating Among Teens) study had previously shown that extreme weight control behaviors increased in prevalence from 14.5% to 23.9% as the girls progressed from middle to late adolescence.

These behaviors can cause physical and psychological problems, including weight gain, depressive symptoms, and the onset of eating disorders, they noted.

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