Page last updated: Monday, October 06, 2008

Family meals can help teen girls avoid drugs and alcohol

Eating meals together as a family can reduce a teen girl’s risk of turning to alcohol or drugs, a new study suggests. The same effect wasn’t seen for boys in this study although the reason for this is not clear.

In families who ate at least five meals a week together, the teen girls were much less likely to drink alcohol, or smoke marijuana or cigarettes five years later, said study author Marla Eisenberg, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

Eisenberg’s team followed 806 Minnesota teens, about 55% of them girls and 45% of them boys. They first surveyed the children in school in 1998 to 1999 when they were about age 13, asking how often their family ate meals together and the teenagers’ use of substances. The researchers followed up with a second survey five years later.

At age 18, the girls who had regular meals with their family - defined for the study as five or more a week - had a much lower risk of substance abuse. And the meal didn’t have to be dinner, Eisenberg said. A previous analysis of the same study participants also found a stronger association for girls than boys between family meals and a lower risk of eating disorders. Yet to come is an analysis of the effect family meals have on a teen’s mental health.

Source: Eisenberg et al. Family Meals and Substance Use: Is There a Long-Term Protective Association? Journal of Adolescent Health, 2008; 43 (2): 151 DOI: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2008.01.019

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