Positive mealtime emotional climate (MEC) has been linked to better nutrition, psychosocial, literacy and academic outcomes, and fewer behavior problems. However, MEC has been defined in a variety of ways across studies, limiting the ability to synthesize findings and plan future research.
To determine how previous studies have measured MEC, and to identify which child characteristics are associated with MEC.
Study Design, Setting, Participants
We searched 3 databases (1980-2018) for peer-reviewed articles measuring MEC. Inclusion criteria required at least 1 child-level outcome related to physical, nutritional, or developmental health; children aged 0-18 years old; and quantitative data using cohort, case-control, intervention, or experimental designs.
To address the first objective, we extracted data about the measures and definitions of MEC from each included article. To address the second aim, we used a previously published taxonomy to categorize child/adolescent characteristics according to the amount of evidence linking them to MEC. A characteristic was categorized as a “correlate” (positive or negative association) or “non correlate” (no association) if >3 studies assessing that characteristic found consistent results. If >3 studies assessing a characteristic had inconsistent results, the construct was classified as “unclear.” If <2 studies assessed a characteristic, then it was not categorized due to an inadequate amount of evidence.
Out of 561 unique studies identified in the initial search, 13 met inclusion criteria, and only 3 used the same measure of MEC. Healthful dietary intake, disordered eating behaviors, and weight/BMI were categorized as correlates of MEC, but links to unhealthy dietary intake are unclear. Several characteristics (eg, temperament, academic success) were examined in only 1 study.
More research is needed to understand the relationship between MEC and child developmental outcomes and physical activity. These findings aid in conceptualizing how MEC has been defined and measured and illuminate the importance of MEC on children's health.