A new study has found that teenage girls who eat meals with their families are more likely to avoid eating disorders such as bulimia.
As children progress from adolescence into adulthood, disordered eating behaviour which involves binge eating and self-induced vomiting, become more common.
Experts say such disorders lead to a plethora of harmful behavioural, physical and psychological results.
These include poor diet quality, weight gain and the onset of obesity, along with symptoms of depression and of course eating disorders.
According to the new research it is important to identify strategies for the prevention of disordered eating behaviours and developing healthy eating habits helps avoid disorders such as bulimia.
Researchers from the University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis have found that teenage girls who ate five or more family meals per week were less likely to resort to extreme dieting measures such as using diet pills or laxatives, binge eating and vomiting to control their weight.
The researchers surveyed 2,516 adolescents at 31 Minnesota schools in 1999 and again in 2004.
The students answered questions about how often they ate with their families as well as their body mass index, eating behaviours, and feelings of family connectedness.
They say their results showed that teenage girls who ate five or more family meals each week in 1999 were much less likely to report using extreme dieting measures that could potentially lead to an eating disorder to control their weight five years later.
The researchers suggest that encouraging family meals may be an effective way to combat the growing problem of eating disorders among teenage girls.
The survey revealed that 26% of girls who ate family meals fewer than five times a week reported using self-induced vomiting and use of laxatives, diet pills, or diuretics to control their weight compared with 17% of those who ate five or more family meals per week.
They say the protective effect of family meals persisted regardless of the girls' socioeconomic status, body mass index, or feelings of family connectedness.
The same relationship, however, was not found among teenage boys and regular family meals were not associated with lower rates of extreme dieting measures among the girls' male classmates, but the reasons behind the gender difference are unclear.
Researcher Dr. Dianne Neumark-Sztainer and colleagues believe there is a possibility that adolescent boys and girls have different experiences at family meals; girls may be more involved in food preparation and other food-related tasks, which may play a protective role in the development of disordered eating behaviors.
Also adolescent girls may be more sensitive to, and more likely to be influenced by interpersonal and familial relationships than adolescent boys.
The study was supported by a grant from the Maternal and Child Health Bureau, Health Resources and Service Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and from the General Mills Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition and is published in the January issue of Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine.