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Fulkerson et al – Family dinner meal frequency and adolescent development

Fulkerson, J.A., Story, M., Mellin, A., Leffert, N., Neumark-Sztainer, D., French, S. A. “Family dinner meal frequency and adolescent development: Relationships with developmental assets and high-risk behaviors”. Journal of Adolescent Health, 39(3) (2006): 337-345.

Fulkerson, Story, Leffert, Neumark-Sztainer, and French, 2006, studied 99,462 adolescents ranging from sixth grade to twelfth grade in order to determine if there is a correlation between adolescence eating with their families frequently and high risk behavior. They wanted to investigate further whether family connectedness can lower substance abuse and even emotional problems in adolescent children. It can also lower sexual activity and violent behaviors in the young teens. Eating meals with families can create a bond between the members and a sense of unity that can help the development of a young teenager. Fulkerson, et al.,’s purpose was to 1. Examine family meal time frequency, 2. Examine family meal time frequency and its association with high risk behavior, and 3. Examine a large pool of adolescence throughout the country, both male and female.

Adolescents all over the country were asked to fill out a questionnaire. The questionnaire asked them several questions on subjects ranging from family support and time spent together at meals, to alcohol and tobacco use, to sexual activity, and finally depression. The adolescents were asked to write the number of times they had participated in each activity that was listed. They found that 47% of males and 42.6% of females reported eating dinner with their families 5-7 times per week. Fulkerson, et al., also found that 74.7% of adolescents that eat with their families 5-7 times per week feel a strong sense of familial support.

Fulkerson, et al., found a positive correlation between the frequency of meals eaten with family and external and internal developmental assets. They also found an inverse relationship between the frequency of family dinners and high risk behaviors. They believe that family dinners serve more than just the function of eating. They represent family togetherness which can give an adolescent a sense of self-worth. Positive development aspects such as self-esteem are also helped with family dinners. The authors believe that further research could explore the differences in family meals and high risk behaviors in different ethnicities/races. Since their sample was predominantly white, they could not research differences successfully. Fulkerson, et al., accepted their hypotheses that frequent family meals could improve external and internal skills in adolescents and can also decrease high risk behavior.

              About the authors: Jayne Fulkerson is a professor in the school of nursing at the University of Minnesota. Mary Story, Allison Mellin, Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, and Simone French work in the division of epidemiology and community health at the University of Minnesota. Nancy Leffert is a professor in the school of nursing in Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara. All of the authors have Ph.D.’s.

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