The last decade of research has suggested that family meals play an important role in promoting healthy dietary intake in youth (1
). Cross-sectional and longitudinal research on adolescent boys and girls from diverse ethnic/racial backgrounds suggest that family meals are associated with increased fruit and vegetable intake (1
), lower levels of extreme weight control behaviors (5
), and better psychosocial health (7
). There is also some evidence that family meals may be protective against obesity (9
), although findings have been inconsistent across studies (9
). However, less research has focused on familial factors associated with frequency of family meals in the homes of adolescents. Research is needed to identify factors within the home environment that increase the occurrence of family meals, in order for more youth to benefit from the protective nature of family meals.
Parents play a central role in the affective environment of the home and in organizing family meals (13
). The structure (e.g., collaboration vs. control), expectations (e.g., rules and clear boundaries), and warmth (e.g., affective responsiveness) a parent provides in the home may contribute to whether family meals occur (13
). Although there has been some research looking at associations between parental feeding styles (e.g., control/restriction) and practices, these studies have been primarily focused on young children and their mothers (15
). Investigating the relationship between parenting styles (authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, neglectful) and the frequency of family meals may be a first step in understanding familial factors within the home environment that may influence the occurrence of family meals with adolescents (13
Parenting style is considered a characteristic of the parent that is relatively stable over time and constitutes the daily environmental and emotional context for child rearing (18
). The four classic parenting styles are: authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, and neglectful (18
). Parenting style typologies are based on two dimensions: (a) the degree to which parents respond to their children (i.e., “responsiveness”) and (b) the degree to which parents make demands of their children (i.e., “demandingness”) (see ). Responsiveness is the extent to which a parent fosters individuality, self-regulation, and self-assertion in their child by being attuned and supportive of their child's needs and demands (18
). Demandingness is the extent to which parents cultivate self-control and responsibility in their child through parental supervision, rules/structure and disciplinary efforts (18
). Parenting style establishes a framework against which an adolescent can predictably interpret parenting behaviors. Studies in the general field of parenting related to adolescent behavior indicate that regardless of adolescents' sex, ethnicity/race, or family socioeconomic status, authoritative parenting style is related to adolescent self-confidence, competency, self-reliance, avoidance of delinquent activity, and self-regulation of mood and behavior (20
). Therefore, parenting style may have the potential to impact and shape other aspects of adolescents' lives such as, eating behaviors, self-regulation of physical activity, and ultimately the risk for overweight.
An authoritative parenting style, characterized by high responsiveness and high demandingness, may be most likely to provide the structure and support needed for family meals to occur. Several cross-sectional studies in youth have found an association between authoritative parenting style and lower body mass index (BMI) and healthier dietary intake (12
). One longitudinal study found that children of authoritarian parents (high demandingness, low responsiveness) had almost a fivefold increase in odds of being overweight (13
). Although previous studies have begun to investigate the association between parenting style and adolescent health behaviors, no previous studies have looked at parenting styles and the frequency of family meals specifically.
The current study builds upon and adds to the extant literature on adolescent health and parenting style by investigating the relationship between parenting style and the frequency of family meals in families with adolescents as a first step in understanding what factors within the family home environment are associated with family meals. This paper will address the following research questions: (a) Is parenting style associated with the frequency of family meals; (b) Does parenting style predict the frequency of family meals longitudinally? (c) Which specific parenting styles (authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, neglectful) serve as risk factors or protective factors in relation to the frequency of family meals?