Washington, July 24 : Parents who have frequent meals with their teenaged children might help in reducing the chances of their kids indulging in smoking or drug abuse in later life, according to a new study.
In the study, scientists noted benefits in families that ate five or more meals together each week, and found that about 60 percent of the participants did so.
"Sixty percent having regular family meals is about what we would expect for middle school students," said lead author Marla Eisenberg of the Division of Adolescent Health and Medicine at the University of Minnesota.
"The percentage is lower among high school students, who are more likely to have afterschool activities or more freedom to spend time away from home," she added.
The study appears in the August issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.
The research team examined data from 806 Minnesota adolescents (45.4 percent boys and 54.6 percent girls).
They first surveyed the youth in school in 1998-1999 (at about age 13) and asked how often in the past week their family ate together and about their use of marijuana, cigarettes and alcohol. They followed up with a second survey by mail five years later.
In the second survey, girls who had reported five or more family meals per week had significantly less substance use than did the females who did not have regular family meals. The girls who had regular meals had about half the odds of substance use.
However, boys showed no significant difference in substance use between those who had regular family meals and those who did not.
"Unfortunately we don't really know why we see this benefit for girls and not boys," Eisenberg said.
"There is some evidence that girls and boys communicate and interact differently with their families, so it's possible that the conversations about behavioral expectations or the subtle 'checking in' that can happen during shared meals might be understood differently by girls and boys," she added.