Date of this Version
Past research showed that family mealtimes positively impact youth's dietary behaviors. However, the processes through which these benefits occur are unclear. Understanding the aspects of family mealtimes such as parent socialization and mealtime context can increase the understanding of how family mealtimes may benefit youths’ dietary behaviors. This mixed methods study identified occurrences around family mealtimes that might impact youths’ dietary behaviors. One hundred parent-child dyads completed surveys. A subsample of 40 families participated in family mealtime observations and 20 parents were interviewed. Quantitative findings showed that parents engaged in various food- and mealtime-related socialization behaviors like parent modeling, parent communication about food and nutrition, and parent feeding practices. Parents’ beliefs about family meals and about media use during mealtimes shaped the context of family meals and impacted youths’ dietary behaviors. Parent communication about nutrition and physical activity was a significant predictor of children’s weight concerns, even after accounting for parent resources and frequency of family meals. Parent modeling was a significant predictor of children’s consumption of outside food. Higher household income predicted lower youths’ weight concerns and longer parent work hours outside the home predicted higher children’s consumption of outside food. Parents’ controlling feeding practices and values/beliefs about family meals were correlated to youths’ dietary behaviors. Families who ate together more also had children who reported higher preferences for healthy foods and lower consumption of outside food. Qualitative findings showed that mealtime is a platform through which parents teach children about food and nutrition. Mealtime routines and activities like meal planning, grocery shopping, and cleaning-up were important components of family mealtime, and family meals were important for bonding and communication. Obesity prevention interventions should include educating and engaging parents to implement family mealtimes with an emphasis on socializing and building a connection between family members. Focus should also be given to help parents address resource-related challenges in having family meals. Parents should also be educated on providing a healthy home food environment, especially in the availability of healthy foods, in order to promote healthier dietary behaviors in youths.
Advisers: Julia Torquati and Maria de Guzman