YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Family dinners keep kids healthy, but it’s not necessarily what’s on the table that does the trick.

The time spent around the table makes the difference when kids make choices about drugs, alcohol and smoking, according to the Defense Commissary Agency.

“Studies show that children that frequently eat dinner with their families are less likely to smoke cigarettes, drink or be involved with drugs,” said Nancy O’Nell, DeCA West spokeswoman.

But table time is hard to get with military families, and to that end, DeCA is teaming up with The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, or CASA, at Columbia University to promote Family Day on Sept. 25.

The hope is that military families will make a special effort to eat together that day, said DeCA director Patrick Nixon.

“With deployments, and defending our country 24/7, military families face many challenges,” Nixon said in a written statement. “It makes it more important than ever for parents to have quality time with their children whenever possible.”

More than 1.3 million Americans participated in Family Day 2005, said CASA leader Joseph A. Califano Jr. in a written statement.

CASA’s researchers found that parental engagement has a “powerful impact” on preventing teen substance abuse, according to CASA. And it might just help academic performance, too.

“When parents and students dine together, they have an opportunity to discuss education and school issues,” said Frank O’Gara, Department of Defense Education Activity spokesman. “These discussions lead to greater parental involvement and interest and can go a long way in fostering success for all children.”

DODEA is getting more than 200 schools at home and abroad involved with the Family Day program, he said. Tricare, the National Military Family Association and the Fisher House Foundation also participate.

As an added incentive, Coca-Cola is sponsoring the chance for a military family to win a trip to New York City for a free dinner prepared by Food Channel Network chef Sandra Lee, host of “Semi-Homemade Cooking.”

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Family dinner pluses

According to CASA, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, children and teens who have frequent family dinners:

Are at half the risk for substance abuse compared to teens who dine with their families infrequently.Are less likely to have friends or classmates who use illicit drugs or abuse prescription drugs.Have lower levels of tension and stress at home.Are more likely to say that their parents are proud of them.Are likelier to say they can confide in their parents.Are likely to get better grades in school.Are more likely to be emotionally content and have positive peer relationships.Have healthier eating habits.Are at lower risk for thoughts of suicide.Are less likely to try marijuana or have friends who use marijuana.— Allison Batdorff

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