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Couples without Children Eat Family Meals Often

Update Date: Sep 19, 2014 03:05 PM EDT

Family meals are important because they bring people together. Studies have found that children benefit from eating at the table with their parents and siblings. In a new study, researchers examined the frequency of family meals in couples that do not have children and found that they were as likely to have family meals as families with children.

For this study, the team examined data on 14,058 adults taken from the 2012 Ohio Medicaid Assessment Survey. This survey gathered information on people's health behaviors, health status and demographics. The researchers reported that the demographics in Ohio are comparable to the demographics of the United States. There were 5,766 adults living with minor children and 8,291 adults living with at least one other adult and no children younger than 19-years-old.

"There are a lot of families that don't have children. And we've forgotten about them in this context of thinking about sharing food and time together and what that means," said lead author of the study, Rachel Tumin, a doctoral student in epidemiology at The Ohio State University reported in the press release.

Overall, the researchers found that in both kinds of households, around 50 percent of the families had sit-down meals together six to seven days each week. The team reported that African-American families, people who were not married and people with jobs were less likely to have frequent family meals in comparison to white and Hispanic families, people who were married and people without jobs. These patterns were noticeable in families with and without children, which suggested that the presence of children did not affect the frequency of family meals.

"Most people value family meals and engage in this behavior. The prevalence of never eating family meals or eating together only once a week is low," senior author Sarah Anderson, associate professor of epidemiology at Ohio State, said. "We thought the distribution would be different, and we hypothesized that adults with children would be much more likely to eat together as a family. The data showed otherwise. If further research finds associations between higher frequency of family meals and improved health outcomes for adults, that will have implications for public health messages."

Tumin added, "Whatever underlying factors are associated with marital status, race and ethnicity, and employment seem to have the same effect on eating family meals regardless of whether or not you have kids in the household."

The researchers did find that age played a factor in the frequency of family meals between the two different types of families. Older adults without minor children were more likely than younger adults without minors to have family meals. In families with children, however, nearly 50 percent of them had family meals during the majority of the week regardless of the adults' ages.

Since other studies have found health benefits for children who ate family meals, the researchers are interested in studying the potential benefits of having frequent family meals for adults without minors.

The study, "The epidemiology of family meals among Ohio's adults," was published in the journal, Public Health Nutrition.

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