Health: Sit down for a family dinner Monday

By Debbie Howes Fleming Published:

Family Day – A Day to Eat Dinner With Your Children is Monday.

Whether it is an elegant gourmet meal or a simple weekday dinner, the time families spend together reconnecting during dinner may determine whether a child experiments with alcohol, tobacco or other drugs. Decades of research conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASAColumbia™) consistently showed that the more often kids eat dinner with their families the less likely they are to smoke, drink and/or use drugs.

In addition to the CASAColumbia findings, research conducted by other organizations also found that regular family dining reduces the risks of early sexual involvement, fighting, other violence such as bullying and thoughts of suicide among teens.

School success, positive peer relationships and healthy eating habits are a few of the positive outcomes of frequent family dinners. Sitting down to a healthy meal may also help combat the growing obesity problems among our youth and adults.

Created in 2001 by CASAColumbia, Family Day was designed to bring families to the dinner table on a regular basis. It is celebrated on the fourth Monday in September and events emphasizing the importance of the day are held in all states. Kentucky’s First Lady Jane Beshear is offering her support of Family Day by serving as an Honorary Chairperson.

A recent survey of 1,000 kids between the ages of 12 and 17 reports that one in five students drink, smoke cigarettes or do drugs during school hours. This report also shows that digital peer pressure is strong. Kids who viewed online photos of their friends drinking and doing drugs were four times more likely to engage in substance abuse activities themselves.

Substance abuse is also on the rise in private schools as well. In 2011, 36 percent of students in private schools reported that drug abuse was “rampant” in their school. That percentage has risen to 54 percent in 2012 compared to that of public schools at 60 percent.

The same report also showed that kids whose parents did not talk to them about not drinking, smoking or using drugs were more likely to be involved in substance abuse. Almost every child will be offered alcohol, tobacco or other drugs before they graduate from high school.

There is no silver bullet to prevent substance abuse and every family is vulnerable. The simple act of turning off the TV, the computer and phones and sitting down to dinner together will help strengthen family bonds.

Parents who endorse Family Day agree that while it is not easy to juggle activities and commitments to make time for family dinners it is worth the effort. It is never too early or too late to start the tradition.

According to Joseph A. Califano, Jr., Chairman and President of CASAColumbia and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, “Revival of the family dinner in America will do more to curb kids smoking, drinking and using drugs than any law or public health campaign.”

The CASAColumbia website at casafamilyday.org provides information and toolkits that can be used to initiate Family Day. The recipes, activities and tips on starting conversations with kids about substance abuse can be used at any time.

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