Including teenagers in family meals is key to heading off problems such as eating disorders, obesity and inadequate nutrition, researchers claim.
Professors at the University of Illinois say even sitting down to just three family meals a week can be enough to safeguard the health of teens in ‘significant ways’.
In the June issue of Paediatrics, Professor Barbara Fiese and colleagues reviewed 17 recent studies on eating patterns and nutrition involving more than 182,000 children and adolescents.
They found those who eat at least five meals a week with their families are 35 per cent less likely to suffer from some form of eating disorder than those who don’t.
Teens who eat at least three family meals a week are 12 per cent less likely to be overweight and 24 per cent more likely to eat healthily.
Prof Fiese said: “For children and adolescents with disordered eating, mealtime provides a setting in which parents can recognise early signs and take steps to prevent detrimental patterns from turning into full-blowing eating disorders.”
Mealtimes also encourage young people to talk more to their families about any problems they are experiencing.
“Family meals give teens a place where they can go regularly to check in with their parents and express themselves freely,” Prof Fiese added.