Barbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND
Could eating together help us live longer?
Updated: Dec 7, 2022
Did you know? Our country is in the midst of a “loneliness epidemic.”
Consider these statistics:
More than one-fourth of all American households consist of people living alone. (US Census, 2010)
More than one-fourth of Americans regularly experience loneliness. Don’t assume these are the same people who live alone – same percentages, but different statistics. (Cacioppo, 2009)
Loneliness and living alone increase the risk of premature death by 26% and 32% respectively. (Holt-Lunstad, 2015)
More than half of American adults eat alone for most eating occasions. (NPD Group, 2014)
Having strong human connections increases longevity by 50%. (Seppala, 2014)
What can we do to counter the harmful effects of isolation and loneliness?
If isolation and loneliness are making us less healthy and shortening our lives, we need to find ways to form stronger human connections.
Sharing meals has been considered an opportunity for social interaction from the beginning of recorded history. In all cultures throughout the world, food and eating connect people. Consider this: the word companion means “with bread” in Latin. Companions eat together.
The month of September is Family Meals Month and the fourth Monday in September – – is Family Day. These initiatives build awareness of the benefits of sharing meals and provide practical solutions to the most common barriers to eating together.
What are the benefits to sharing meals?
The benefits are numerous – improved diets, healthier weights, greater family cohesiveness, improved academic performance, and less risk-taking behaviors – all significantly associated with more frequent family meals.
The barriers are not insurmountable – with a little planning and preparation. Making family meals a priority and being intentional is the first step.
Who could YOU share a meal with on Family Day or any day?
On Family Day I’ll be in the location pictured above – in the dining room at University Place in West Lafayette, Indiana. This is where my mother (pictured) and mother-in-law both live in independent living apartments. Our extended family assembles there every Monday evening.
In the picture, you can also see my youngest granddaughter, Maddie. The people you can’t see include my husband, my mother-in-law, my two sons, my older son’s wife, and Maddie’s older brother, Isaiah. On Family Day our daughter and her two children will be joining us. Often, my husband’s sister and our brother-in-law join us.
Sharing meals together with extended family is a highlight of our mothers’ weeks. On a daily basis, they come to the dining room to share meals with friends, a highlight of their days.
Can we make sharing meals a priority?
I believe we all need to make sharing meals a priority, not just seniors, not just families, but everyone.
Even working adults - surveys show that 62% of American workers eat lunch alone at their desks. Instead, join a colleague for lunch. The break could improve your health, your work relationships, your productivity, and quite possibly - your longevity.
Sharing meals isn’t the only way to build stronger human connections, but it’s a great way! A nourishing way! Eat together today – it may help you live a longer, healthier life.
For more on family meals, visit my page with free resources about family meals.
Speaking to groups about family meals is one of my favorite speech topics. Interested? Learn more at my speaking page.
Eat together on Family Day, and every day!
In the comments, share where and with whom you plan to share a meal on Family Day.