Frequency of family meals and childhood overweight: a systematic review


Address for correspondence: Dr J Valdés, Escuela Nacional de Sanidad, Instituto de Salud Carlos III, C/ Sinesio Delgado 8, PC 28029, Madrid, Spain. E-mail:


Energy balance is influenced by understudied genetic, social and other environmental factors. The frequency of family meals (FFM) may be one of these factors since it is associated with a healthier dietary pattern in children and adolescents. The objective of this review is to evaluate the scientific evidence on the association between FFM and the risk of childhood and adolescent overweight. The electronic literature search identified 394 articles published during 2005–2012. Of these, 15 studies gave precise information of the studied association, of which four were longitudinal. We found great variability regarding the measurement of FFM. Six out of 11 cross-sectional studies and 1 out of 4 longitudinal studies found statistically significant inverse associations between FFM and being overweight, mainly in children, with odds ratios ranging from 0.11 to 0.93. Of those, only one adjusted for all the potential confounding factors considering socio-demographic, physical activity- and diet-related variables. Therefore, this review found inconsistent and weak evidence of an inverse association between FFM and risk of childhood overweight. In conclusion, further research is needed to establish whether family meals have an effect on childhood overweight. These studies ideally should have longitudinal or experimental designs, a clear and standardized definition of the exposure under study, a measure of the exposure based on direct observation or validated questionnaires and an adequate adjustment for potential confounders.