Uniquely Wonderful Secret to Children’s Success

Have you ever wondered how to make a big impact on your child’s health and school success? Are you curious to know what secret books and latest technology are  needed for your child to excel? Can you even afford the innovative toys that will make children of all ages brilliant? Well, you can‘t order the latest success tools from the internet and forget the big box discount stores because even Wal-Mart doesn’t have this piece of equipment. What is it that makes a huge impact on your child’s school success? What will also decrease their chances of using drugs and alcohol? Something really quite simple, and uniquely wonderful—something called the family dinner.

Here are some dinner statistics to chew on:

  • Children not eating dinner with their families are 61 percent more likely to use alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs;
  • Children who eat dinner with their families nightly are 20 percent less likely to drink, smoke, or use illegal drugs;
  • Teens who share frequent family dinners are less likely to have sex at young ages, participate in fights, or be suspended from school;
  • Teens who eat dinner with their families are at lower risk for thoughts of suicide;
  • Children who eat with their families are more likely to eat healthier foods and more balanced meals; and
  • Family dining improves communication and family connections.

In the August 2004 issue of The Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, a University of Minnesota research team reported frequent family meals led to improved nutrition, a decreased risk of unhealthy weight control practices, and decreased risk for substance abuse. Marla Eisenberg, ScD, MPH from the University of Minnesota summarized the findings, “The frequency with which a teen eats family meals appears to be associated with a variety of psychosocial and behavioral variables, including cigarette smoking, alcohol and marijuana use, grades in school, depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. We found family mealtime to be a protective factor in the lives of adolescents for nearly all of these variables, particularly among girls. Specifically, kids who reported eating more family meals per week reported significantly less substance use and significantly better academic and mental health than those eating fewer meals with family. These associations were apparent across the spectrum of meal frequency each additional meal per week conferred some additional benefit.”

Another study performed at Harvard and published in the March 2000 issue of Archives of Family Medicine showed that eating family dinners together resulted in children eating higher amounts of calcium, fiber, iron, vitamins B6, B12, C, and E. And that’s not all, these families also consumed less overall fat compared to families that only occasionally shared meals together. Similar results have been reproduced by a study at the University of Minnesota published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.  This study found that children who eat family dinners consume more fruits, vegetables and fewer snack foods compared to children who ate separately from their families.

Furthermore, children who regularly eat meals with their families do better in school. A study from the University of Illinois found children ages 7-11 years who did well in school and on achievement tests ate meals frequently with their families. A  Harvard Graduate School of Education study reported that young children who frequently shared in family meals had increased vocabulary, which helps with reading skills. A 1994 Lou Harris-Reader’s Digest national survey of high school seniors revealed higher scholastic scores among students who experienced frequent family meals. Surveying high-achieving teens also confirmed that students who regularly eat meals with their families are happier with life and had positive attitudes for their futures.

So what does all this information mean?  If you haven’t already, it is time to make family mealtime a priority for both health and educational successes in kids.  The younger this tradition starts, the sooner children reap both the health and educational rewards of this practice.  Families can have some fun with meal preparation, planning, and clean up by involving children.  With some assistance from parents, children of all ages can help in the entire meal process.

©2010 Chris Marchioni, MD