Healthy Living: Health Benefits from Sitting Down to Family Dinners 

By- Dr. Jonathan WoodFor some, the term “family dinner”conjures up a picture of Beaver Cleaver and his parents, Ward (in his necktie) and June (with her pearls). That picture is probably pretty dated, but family dinners are thankfully not a thing of the past. It turns out that the number of families who eat dinner together at least 5 times/week has remained pretty constant at around 60% over the last 10 years. And according to Columbia University’s “Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse”, there are numerous apparent benefits for teens that are associated with this habit.The study, which has been revised and repeated six times since 2001, compares two groups:• Parents and teens who have dinner together 5 or more times each week• Parents and teens who have dinner together 2 or fewer times each weekIn the 2010 study, over 2000 teens and almost 500 parents were surveyed to generate these results.Teens from families who infrequently eat dinner together had significantly increased experience with substance use:• Twice as likely to have used tobacco• 89% increase in having used marijuana• 50% increase in having used alcohol• Much more likely to report friends who:o Use marijuana (58% increase)o Use Ecstasy (63% increase)o Abuse prescription drugs (50% increase)o Use LSD, cocaine, or heroine (25% increase)Additionally, increased family dinners have a clear positive correlation with improved academic performance. Higher academic performance, in addition to the obvious benefits, is in itself consistently associated with lower rates of substance abuse.Families that eat together on a regular basis report higher rates of general discussion about all aspects of child and adolescent life, including discussions of current events, school and sports, friends and social activities, and family issues or problems.Family dinner also seems to improve general relationships and the sense of wellbeing within families. 70 percent of teens who eat dinner with their parents 5-7 times/wk report that their parents are proud of them compared with 48 percent of teens who dine with their families 2 or fewer times/wk. Furthermore, nearly three quarters of teens (72%) report that eating dinner with their parents is either “fairly important” or “very important”.Whether true “cause and effect” or simply association, these results are too impressive to ignore. Something happens at the dinner table when the opportunity is offered and that “something” is generally very positive. It is too simple to not take advantage of, so think about it.For more information, visit the National Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse website:www.casacolumbia.orgFor the full 2010 report, “The Importance of Family Dinners VI”