The Beneficial Effect of Family Meals on Obesity Differs by Race, Sex, and Household Education: The National Survey of Children’s Health, 2003- 2004 Essay

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RESEARCH
Research and Professional Briefs

The Beneficial Effect of Family Meals on Obesity
Differs by Race, Sex, and Household Education:
The National Survey of Children’s Health,
2003-2004
BRANDI Y. ROLLINS, MS; RHONDA Z. BELUE, PhD; LORI A. FRANCIS, PhD

ABSTRACT
Studies have indicated that family meals may be a protective factor for childhood obesity; however, limited evidence is available in children with different racial, socioeconomic, and individual characteristics. The purpose of this study was to examine family meal frequency as a protective factor for obesity in a US– based sample of non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black, and Hispanic children age 6 to 11 years, and to identify individual, familial, and socioeconomic factors that moderate this association. Data were from the 2003 National Survey of
Children’s Health (nϭ16,770). Multinomial logistic regression analyses were used to test the association between family meal frequency and weight status, and the moderating effects of household structure, education, poverty level, and sex, by racial group. Non-Hispanic white children who consumed family meals every day were less likely to be obese than those eating family meals zero or a few days per week. A moderating effect for sex was observed in non-Hispanic black children such that family meal frequency was marginally protective in boys but not in girls. Higher family meal frequency was a marginal risk factor for obesity in Hispanic boys from low-education households, but not in girls from similar households. In conclusion, family meals seem to be protective of obesity in non-Hispanic white children and

B. Y. Rollins is with the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Center for Childhood Obesity
Research, R. BeLue is an assistant professor, Department of Health Policy and Administration, and L. A.
Francis is an assistant professor, Department of Biobehavioral Health, Center for Human Development and
Family Research in Diverse Contexts, The Pennsylvania
State University, University Park.
Address correspondence to: Lori A. Francis, PhD, Department of Biobehavioral Health, Center for Human
Development and Family Research in Diverse Contexts,
The Pennsylvania State University, 315C Health and
Human Development Building East, University Park,
PA 16802. E-mail: lfrancis@psu.edu
Manuscript accepted: March 5, 2010.
Copyright © 2010 by the American Dietetic
Association.
0002-8223/$36.00 doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2010.06.004

© 2010 by the American Dietetic Association

non-Hispanic black boys, whereas they may put Hispanic boys living in low-education households at risk. Greater emphasis is needed in future research on assessing why this association differs among different race/ethnic groups, and evaluating the influence of the quality and quantity of family meals on child obesity.
J Am Diet Assoc. 2010;110:1335-1339.

I

n the United States, the increase in childhood obesity
(1) has been accompanied by a decrease in the occurrence of family meals within the home (2). Children who eat family meals consume more fruits and vegetables
(3-5) and less saturated fat (6) and have better overall diet quality (5). However, few studies to date have examined the relationship between family meals and weight status in childhood. To the authors’ knowledge, no studies have assessed this association by child sex, in Hispanic and non-Hispanic black preadolescent children, or in children living in low socioeconomic households. This is surprising given that obesity rates were disproportionally high in a 2003-2006 national study among Hispanics and non-Hispanic blacks age 6 to 11 years, particularly among Hispanic boys and non-Hispanic black girls, as compared with non-Hispanic whites (7). Moreover, US children are at greater risk for obesity if they live in families with low socioeconomic status (8,9) or low education level (10,11), and in single-parent– headed…