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Promoting family meals: a review of existing interventions and opportunities for future research

Authors Dwyer L, Oh A, Patrick H, Hennessy E

Received 20 November 2014

Accepted for publication 5 February 2015

Published 22 June 2015 Volume 2015:6 Pages 115—131


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 3

Editor who approved publication: Professor Steven Youngentob

Laura Dwyer,1 April Oh,2 Heather Patrick,1,3 Erin Hennessy4

1Health Behaviors Research Branch, Behavioral Research Program, Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, MD, USA; 2Health Communication and Informatics Research Branch, Behavioral Research Program, Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, MD, USA; 3Live Healthier, Bethesda, MD, USA; 4Clinical Research Directorate/Clinical Monitoring Research Program, Leidos Biomedical Research, Inc., Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research, Frederick, MD, USA

Abstract: Evidence suggests that regular family meals protect against unhealthy eating and obesity during childhood and adolescence. However, there is limited information on ways to promote family meals as part of health promotion and obesity prevention efforts. The primary aim of this review was to synthesize the literature on strategies to promote family meals among families with school-aged children and adolescents. First, we reviewed interventions that assess family meals as an outcome and summarized strategies that have been used in these interventions. Second, we reviewed correlates and barriers to family meals to identify focal populations and target constructs for consideration in new interventions. During May 26–27, 2014, PubMed and PsycInfo databases were searched to identify literature on family meals published between January 1, 2000 and May 27, 2014. Two reviewers coded 2,115 titles/abstracts, yielding a sample of 139 articles for full-text review. Six interventions and 43 other studies presenting data on correlates of or barriers to family meals were included in the review. Four interventions resulted in greater family meal frequency. Although there were a small number of interventions, intervention settings were diverse and included the home, community, medical settings, the workplace, and the Internet. Common strategies were goal setting and interactive group activities, and intervention targets included cooking and food preparation, cost, shopping, and adolescent influence. Although methodological nuances may contribute to mixed findings, key correlates of family meals were employment, socioeconomic and demographic factors, family structure, and psychosocial constructs. Barriers to consider in future interventions include time and scheduling challenges, cost, and food preferences. Increasing youth involvement in mealtime, tailoring interventions to family characteristics, and providing support for families experiencing time-related barriers are suggested strategies for future research.

Keywords: family meals, families, intervention, diet

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