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Family meals with young children: an online study of family mealtime characteristics, among Australian families with children aged six months to six years

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posted on 2017-01-24, 00:00 authored by Eloise Litterbach, Karen CampbellKaren Campbell, Alison SpenceAlison Spence
BACKGROUND: Evidence suggests that family meals influence food intakes and behaviours, which in turn impact children's eating habits, diets and health. Mealtimes therefore offer potential as settings for health promotion. Given diet, health behaviours and health are often socioeconomically patterned, it is important to consider whether family meals differ by socioeconomic position (SEP). METHODS: The Family Meals with Young Kids study was an online survey completed by parents in 2014. Mealtime characteristics measured included; frequency of shared meals across the day, duration and location of mealtimes, parental modelling, and parental perceived importance of the evening meal. Maternal education was used to assess SEP. The aims of this study were to describe family meal characteristics among Australian families with children aged six months to six years and to describe the socioeconomic patterning of these. RESULTS: Participants (n = 992) were mostly mothers (97%) with a university degree (71%). The evening meal was the most frequently reported meal eaten together with the responding parent and child (77% ≥ five nights/week). Snacks were least commonly eaten together (39% ≥ five days/week). The frequency of having everyone present for the evening meal was inversely associated with SEP (OR 0.70, CI 0.54-0.92). Parent rated importance of family meals was generally high and positively associated with higher SEP (OR 1.32, CI 1.00-1.76). Most children consumed breakfast (73%), lunch (58%) and dinner (82%) sitting at a table or bench and this was positively associated with higher SEP for all meal types (OR 1.61-2.37, p < 0.05). Increased television (TV) viewing during meals was inversely associated with SEP (OR 0.63, CI 0.54-0.72). Less than half of children (36%) watched TV during meals more than once a day. CONCLUSIONS: Australian families engage in many healthy mealtime behaviours. Evidence that parents share meals with children and place high value on mealtimes with children provides important opportunities for promoting healthy behaviours in families. The choice of eating location and the practice of viewing TV during mealtimes are examples of two such opportunities. Socioeconomic patterning of the location of mealtimes and TV viewing during meals may contribute to socioeconomic differences in dietary intakes and may be important targets for future health promotion.



BMC public health





Article number



1 - 9


BioMed Central


London, Eng.





Publication classification

C Journal article; C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2017, The Authors