Commentary: Studies Find That Dinner Makes a Difference; Family Day Spreads the Word

    The benefits of family dinners go far beyond what is being served on the plate. More than a decade of research by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA* Columbia) has found that the more often kids eat dinner with their families, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use drugs. CASA Columbia created Family Day – A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children™ in 2001 as a way to remind parents about the importance of frequent family dinners.

    Family Day, which will be celebrated nationwide this year on Monday, September 26, is a national movement that reminds parents that they have the power to keep their kids substance free and that the parental engagement fostered around the dinner table is a simple and effective way for moms and dads to connect with their children and give them the confidence to make wise decisions.

    According to data from CASA Columbia’s newly-released report, The Importance of Family Dinners VII, compared to teens who have frequent family dinners (five to seven per week), those who have infrequent family dinners (fewer than three per week) are almost four times likelier to use tobacco; more than twice as likely to use alcohol; two-and-a-half times likelier to use marijuana; and almost four times likelier to say they expect to try drugs in the future.

    Kids thrive on the routine established during frequent family dinners. It gives them a sense of security and confidence. There are many lessons to be learned around the dinner table. Just asking your child what the best and worst part of their day was can teach parents so much about the environment your child is growing up in.

    Although having dinner is the easiest way to create routine opportunities for engagement and communication, dinner isn’t the only time parents can engage with their children. If your schedules can’t be rearranged to include family dinners, engage in other kinds of activities with your children so that you are a reliable, involved and interested presence in their lives. The magic that happens over family dinners isn’t the food on the table, but the communication and conversations around it. Creating opportunities to connect is what’s important.

    Family Day has garnered nationwide support from the President, all 50 Governors and more than 1,000 Mayors and County Executives, who have proclaimed and supported Family Day. The majority of State First Spouses  are supporting Family Day with 26 serving as Honorary Chairs of Family Day and participating in events and spreading the word about Family Day in their states. Families, faith-based and non-profit organizations, Major League Baseball teams and corporations are gearing up to celebrate Family Day. Landmarks across the country, including the Empire State Building, will be lighting up in red and blue in honor of Family Day.

    For more information about Family Day, or to take the Family Day Pledge, please visit

    Kathleen Ferrigno, Director of Marketing, The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University

    *The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University is neither affiliated with, nor sponsored by, the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association (also known as “CASA”) or any of its member organizations, or any other organizations with the name of “CASA”.

    By Kathleen Ferrigno
    September 2011


    September 2011