(NaturalNews) Teenage girls whose families eat meals together regularly have a 50 percent lower chance of using alcohol, tobacco or marijuana than girls from families who did not regularly spend such time together, according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Minnesota Medical School and published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
Researchers surveyed 806 Minnesota children of approximate age 13 in 1998 and 1999 about whether they used controlled substances and how often their family ate together. Approximately 55 percent of the participants were girls. Five years later, the researchers repeated the survey with the same children.
They found that at age 18, girls in families that ate at least five meals together per week were 50 percent less likely to have started using controlled substances. The meal did not have to be dinner.
Prior studies have suggested that regular family meals allow parents to communicate with their children better and to monitor their emotional states. Alternately, regular family meals might simply function as a marker for a better overall family relationship.
"Some of the factors related to substance use in teens are linked to family conflict," said Jeanie Alter of Indiana University, who was not involved in the study. "So, if you have a kid that is sharing that much time with his or her family, it would suggest they have better family relationships, more protective factors and fewer risk factors."
No relationship was found between regular family meals and decreased substance use in boys.
"Unfortunately we don't really know why we see this benefit for girls and not boys," researcher Marla 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."